Big Bang Mini
| Big Bang Mini

It's easy to confused the terms paradox and tautology: one's an internal contradiction, the other is defining the same thing twice. One famous example of a paradox is Epimenides the Cretan's claim that 'All Cretans are liars'. If Epimenides were to have said, 'All Cretans are Greek liars,' it would have been both a paradox and a tautology.

(I hope you're going somewhere with this - ed.)

Like Big Bang Mini. It's clearly a paradox - 'big' and 'mini', but also a tautology - 'big' and 'bang'. This logical extravagance isn't a coincidence. It extends past the game's title and into your stylus time.

French developer Arkedo is nothing if not innovative, and it enjoys stretching creativity to the point that it becomes plain difficult. Still, I really liked its previous DS game Nervous Brickdown, which twisted the Breakout/Arkanoid/Block Breaker genre into something super stylised while retaining both ball and bat.

Similar innovation has clearly gone into the 18 month development of Big Bang Mini, only this time with the presumed starting point of the shoot-'em-up genre. So here's another question: is Big Bang Mini a shmup?

Actually, let's cut to the chase and talk about what happens.

On the top screen, various baddies float and zoom around, dropping things on you. On the bottom screen is you, typically some sort of dot. With your stylus pressed down on the dot, you can move it around, avoiding the things dropping from above.

Also with your stylus (when it's not pressed down on the dot), you can flick upwards, launching fireworks. As fast as you like and in any direction, your goal is to hit the baddies, exploding them into five-pointed stars which will then fall, allowing you to pick them up, filling your star meter in the process.

When it's full, the stage is over. The twist is that if you miss the baddies, your fireworks will explode, creating debris which will drift down. And if your dot makes contact with any falling item that's not a star, the stage is over in a bad, do not pass go, do not collect £200 way. Death.

You begin to see the contradiction? The more you fire, the more likely you are to hit the baddies, collect the falling stars and make progress. The more you fire, the more likely you are to miss the baddies and collide with something falling down and have to start again.

Back to that shmup question.

The crux of the argument is that in Big Bang Mini the movement of the dot and firing have been separated into two mutually exclusive actions. You can either move or fire. Shmups combine the two, so you can avoid enemy fire while simultaneously firing back.

In fact, Big Bang Mini is more complicated because as well as moving to avoiding falling debris, you're also moving to collect falling stars. If they fall off the bottom of the screen, the game will trigger more attack waves until you've filled your star meter.

Still, surely this move/shoot disconnection is a good thing? Sometimes. For as Arkedo's MD Camille Guermonprez sagely noted in one press release, 'if there's anything players won't like about the game, it will be that they're too involved in striking and dodging to appreciate the light show they're creating'.

The further you get into Big Bang Mini, the more you'll find your attention glued to the bottom of the screen, frantically guiding your dot/triangle/whatever through streams of falling things.

Any second that your dot's safe from harm, you'll flick back counterfire in the hope of hitting something - an eventuality that's only really made possible thanks to the use of the homing upgrade (hold down the L or R shoulder buttons).

You just don't have time to see what's happening on the top screen. All you're listening out for is the tinny sound that lets you know a baddy has exploded into a falling star you need to collect.

Frankly, it's a shame because as well as the music and audio effects being among the best I've heard on DS, the range of the graphics is wonderful. Each of the nine levels contains nine individual stages and a final boss battle.

Named in such terms as Aurora, Luxor and Abyss - as well as Hong Kong, Paris and New York - each is themed with a different 'dot' for you to control, different baddies, different debris, different attack patterns, and new upgrades for you to use.

Examples of the latter include a time stop, a spiral vortex that attracts falling debris and a mirror shield that reflects them back upscreen.

It's the baddies who really impress though. From dragon monkeys to pirate snowmen, cute scythe-wielding manga angels of death, skeleton puppets and a punk walrus who launches fish bones that follow you, they're the stars of the game. Shame you don't have more time to watch them.

And that's the paradox of Big Bang Mini. The presentation and inventiveness is awesome, the layering of gameplay elements such as the upgrades and baddie behaviour is skilful, and that's not to forget all the other features we don't have time to discuss such as the head2head versus mode (only one cart required), the bonus zones, the mission mode, and the global highscore via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

But there's also too much inventiveness and too many gameplay elements squeezed into too little space. Everything's rushed, the action too frantic, and the occasional difficulty spike a bit too spiky for the game to fulfil its potential.

Big Bang Mini

Big Bang Mini is beautifully presented and innovative in terms of its design and gameplay but the further you progress through the 90 stages, the more the flourishes get in the way
Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.