Hands on with the explosive Big Bang Mini on DS
A lot of bang for your buck
Big Bang Mini is a difficult game to slot into a particular genre. It's easiest to describe as an old-skool style shooter, similar in style to something like Ikaruga.
But, partly because of the format it's on and also because instead of using spaceships and bullets it opts for long-tongued frogs and flying walruses taken down by pretty constellations of fireworks, it doesn't feel like playing an old-skool shooter. It feels more like a ride through someone's stream of conciousness in which you just happen to need to be constantly dodging barrages of snowballs, bubbles, falling leaves or whatever lethal ammunition is being offloaded in your direction.
The fact it's on DS further adds to the feeling you're not playing a shooter in the traditional sense. Control-wise, unleashing a fountain of fireworks skywards is done with an upward stroke of the stylus on the touchscreen, which means you can fire from any part of the touchscreen you like and at any angle. Movement of your craft is a separate thing altogether and again it's done on the touchscreen by simply sliding it in any direction you like.
What these controls mean is that attacking and defending are two separate entities. Get too carried away firing off blasts of gunpower at enemies on the touchscreen and your craft will, in the meantime, be swamped and destroyed. Be too cautious dodging invading projectiles and you won't destroy enough enemies and collect the stars they're turned into to complete the level.
Perhaps because of the DS format, or perhaps because of its odd kitsch characters and backdrops, Big Bang Mini feels like a much more casual-targeted game, too, certainly when compared to the aforementioned Ikaruga. At best, it will end up being something for everyone. Certainly the later levels are fast and busy enough to challenge those who've notched up big scores on Geometry Wars, but there also feels like there's a certain amount of forgiveness in parts. Projectiles can graze your craft without taking it out, for instance. Regardless, even if you are destroyed the levels are short enough (about five minutes long) that returning to the beginning isn't a punishment that'll have you taking out your frustrations via repeated stabs of the touchscreen with your stylus.
Ten worlds make up Big Bang Mini and each has its own unique theme. The Aurora world for instance seems inspired by those decidedly dodgy Christmas card selection packs you get, packed as it is with cute kittens wearing 3D specs and riding magic carpets and giant cell-shaded icebergs. Later on there's a Luxor world, which is both futuristic and vaguely Space Invaders-esque, and a neon lit Kamakura shaking up the mix.
At the end of each world's eight levels there's also a boss battle to fight against a final suitably bonkers giant inhabitant of that world.
Of course, no shoot-'em-up would be complete without some sort of power-ups, although Big Bang Mini is very light on instant gratification of the super powerful sort. Instead, new worlds offer new powers. You'll gain the ability to draw a projectile-swallowing cyclone on the touchscreen, for example, hold one of the triggers while firing to hone in on enemies, and draw a line for a shield to hide behind.
Some of these power-ups are temporary and some permanent, presumably for the sake of balance. Big Bang Mini definitely isn't a game to overwhelm you with items, options or tactics. The gameplay remains simple, while the game world around you is anything but with its neon-licked backdrops, funky electro tunes and bouncing, swirling enemies.
Actually, this funky art style is remotely similar to Arkedo Studio's first game, Nervous Brickdown. What differs is that while Nervous Brickdown was – while good – essentially a stylised and modern version of Breakout, Big Bang Mini is much more its own experience which also uses the DS to full potential.
Wisely, too, since its small studio origins and slightly niche concept means it could struggle to compete with bigger rivals, the game will be released at the budget price of £19.99. Which, for 90 levels of explosive shooting and a head-to-head two-player mode, is almost certain to go down better than the burning of a George Bush Guy Fawkes at a Democrats' bonfire party.