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Destructoid review: Dropship

5:27 PM on 12.23.2008 // Brad Nicholson

Finding a good mobile title, especially on Apple’s Application Store, can be quite the task. The iPod and iPhone platform is open to any developer for a small fee. As a result, the App Store is flooded with bad programs and equally poor games created by developers looking for a quick buck. This was the most apparent when the service began and everyone rushed to the checkout tab.

As the service evolves, so will its products. Ngmoco’s latest rash of games is an indication of progress on the platform. One of the publisher/developer’s newer titles, Dropship, is definitely a game that everyone iPhone (or iPod Touch) user looking to play a game should check out.

It is rare to find a mobile title that does everything that Dropship manages. The game is a slick space shooter, featuring a visual style not unlike recent downloadable hits like Geometry Wars or Everyday Shooter. The goal of the campaign mode is to navigate large pieces of geometry (literally) with a spaceship to pick up a package called a “pod.” Once the pod is secured underneath the ship, players need to bring it back up through the geometry and into the cosmos.   

But things are never quite that simple. Hit the jump for the full review.

Dropship (iPhone, iPod Touch)
Developed by ngmoco
Published by ngmoco 
Released on December, 2008

The levels in Dropship are composed of small bits and pieces of rectangles, squares, and other various points and angles. When combined, these pieces form a small framework in which the spaceship can navigate. The lovely Geometry Wars-inspired visuals certainly add to what could have been completely bland in any other skin.

The point of the game is simple – take a small package called “the Pod” outside of the level. The challenge comes from getting to the Pod and then navigating the hanging device back through. Bumping into edges, walls, or barriers results in a small loss of shields. The game's enemies' can also clunk away at your shields with colorful space bullets.

For the majority of the time, this provides an impressively rich experience. Generally, backtracking can be tedious in games, but the timer in Dropship is set intelligently to incorporate the inevitable bumbling around by the player as well as the time he or she will need to shoot all the turrets over again. Very often past the introductory phase, players will find themselves finishing missions with only a few seconds left to spare. It leaves a sense of accomplishment that is rare in mobile titles.

The other gameplay device is the retrieval of little yellow human hostages. Unlike the pod, hostages are picked up and forgotten about. Once a hostage is retrieved, players will get an increase in ther gun's fire power. The upgrades range from a faster rate of fire to instant-kill lasers. Picking up humans isn’t integral to the experience, but it helps when facing some of the larger, turret-ridden zones. Hostage names are collected from the player’s contact list.

The controls are quite interesting and there is a small learning curve to speak of. The game is played horizontally, with both thumbs placed at opposite ends of the iPhone or iPod Touch’s screen. The left thumb controls the flight and thrust of the spaceship and the right thumb controls the firing. Each mechanic brings up a circular reticule that widens as players push towards a direction.

Unlike most iPhone games, the touch controls rarely get in the way. It’s rather refreshing to know that a clumsy thumb isn’t going to wreck the experience. The spaceship is fairly responsive to the player’s control, although it is certainly arguable as to how precise it is. Oftentimes the enemies, especially the moving ones later in the game, require timing and accuracy to bring down. It seems as though the firing reticule is a few centimeters off where you desire to fire. This problem is compounded by the frenetic nature of the game once the pod is picked up.

The pod detaches from the ship if a player bumps into the walls of the level too much or if a turret shoots it. Losing it adds to the exhilarating nature of the return, but can sometimes get quite frustrating. The pod dangles on a green line underneath the spaceship and has a tendency to shift as the spaceship moves. The levels were created to provide challenging navigation, thus the pod string will get caught on the edges or in the more narrow regions of levels. Having to stop and backtrack to get the pod can be a bummer sometimes. Especially, when you know it is the level's construction and not necessarily your lack of skill.

The other mode in the game is called “Free Play Mode” and does essentially what it sounds like. It’s a hostage rescue mode, where the player is forced to fly around a constricted environment and combat enemies while trying to rescue hostages. There are multiple stages of varying degrees of difficulty, but the mode restarts once the player dies. I would have loved to see this as an eternal mode, where death doesn’t necessarily matter and the action keeps going.

The game also features downloadable levels and in-game achievements for a variety of things. The downloadable levels look great thus far and should be a solid vehicle for this game in the future. As it stands now, Dropship is an impressive effort and has a few noticeable errors. Despite this, it’s a great title that deserves your coin if you are looking for a shooter on your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)


Brad Nicholson,
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