PixelJunk Shooter. Super Stardust HD. Geometry Wars 1 and 2: Among a whole lot of other games that are significantly less memorable, these are just a select few of titles that stand out from among the plethora of ship based twin-stick shooters. There are, quite frankly, a good number of these kinds of games available, so does Ion Assault HD do enough differently to warrant its price tag? Let’s find out.
Immediately upon booting up Ion Assault HD, you’ll notice that there’s two game modes available: Campaign and Survival. Campaign mode has your choice of colored ship trekking through five various worlds-of course using the word, ‘World’ might be a little presumptuous since they’re mostly just differently hued square environments in which the player shoots rocks and enemies.
The goal of each stage is to eliminate all of the asteroids floating about in space. To accomplish this task the player’s ship can draw in ion particles strewn about the field to charge up a blast that it can then fire to take out enemy ships and asteroids. It’s actually a very interesting concept that lends to forcing the player to move about the stage in order to effectively deal damage. Particles fired from one side of the area to the other will stay on that side, so in order to use another fully-charged shot you must constantly move your ship. Players that like to camp, that is, back into a corner to fire more safely, will soon find themselves without any particles to use as ammunition.
Thankfully, this does add a sense of urgency to the game and works well with how the game spawns score spheres for points since taking out multiple targets at once creates higher quality score drops and more of them to boot. There are also various power ups that the player can use to aid themselves in not dying amidst the multicolored haze that is the game’s visual presentation. Some increase the range of attraction for particles while another drops a mine that draws in particles and enemies to destroy them in a devastating swirl.
The power-ups are helpful tools that can be conserved between stages in Campaign mode but are lost upon death, so knowing when to use the power-ups and when to keep them in reserve is paramount to achieving a high score for the leaderboards.
Interestingly enough, the sole mechanic that characterizes Ion Assault from the various other twin-stick shooters on the market is surprisingly absent from the other modes of the game, such as in Survival mode. Survival handles suspiciously like the various, other shooters available. Your ships flutters about the stage firing at enemies with no need to charge up your shots in the slightest, aiming for nothing more than the high score and maybe a few trophies.
Versus Multiplayer is even more different than the aforementioned, abandoning the vacuum cleaner mechanic like Survival but introducing a strategic element where each player controls a spacecraft carrier that hurls ships to kamikaze into the opponent’s carrier. Some experimentation is needed to accurately figure out what is going on in this mode since there’s not a tutorial to play (at least not that I or my friend were able to find, I’m more than willing to be corrected about this). Of course, if that mode doesn’t appease the multiplayer itch, there’s always the cooperative campaign that two people can take part in and attempt to conquer.
Now, as interesting as the game’s main mechanic of vacuuming ion particles seems to be, it also lends to a significant portion of the frustration in this game. See, the collection of particles creates an effect that is fun to look at the first few times, but only serves to obfuscate any happenings onscreen once things become hectic and frenzied due to numbers of enemies, enemy shots and asteroids. Of course, half of the irritation while playing this game is due to sloppy color choices, particle effects that cover up enemy missiles and shots, and more. The final world, for example, is littered with light blue particles on a dark background with light blue lines across it, and ‘Asteroids’ that are light blue cubes that drift lifelessly in an environment that would make only the Blue Man Group comfortable. It can be annoying to be charging a shot to take out an enemy only to bump into a small cube fragment that blended in seamlessly with the particles, making your ship lose its charge and spin helplessly, commonly resulting in a life lost.
Using the default colored pink ship from world one and the way up to world five was simple enough until reaching the last boss, where the background, enemies, enemy shots and particles were all the exact same hue of pink as the ship, which made making out anything occurring onscreen an absolute chore. A fair number of deaths came from being killed by camouflaged homing missiles, covered up by the particles on the stage and those being charged by the ship.
This isn’t to say that the game isn’t beautiful. The graphic presentation of this game is top-notch, and all of the various particle effects are about the best that could be seen in such a game without delving into engines that use PhysX for particles like Hawken. While the presentation is very muddled by curious design choices, when you can make sense of what’s going on then it does look nice.
The music is very fitting of this type of game since its a hearty styling of electronica that commonly pervades these kinds of shooters. Unfortunately, while it’s effective because other games do it that likewise means it’s just more of the same, so long as the soundtracks for Geometry Wars or Super Stardust didn’t bother you, this soundtrack shouldn’t be bothersome either but new players might be underwhelmed by the pew-pew noises and average throughout the game.
To summarize: Ion Assault HD is a twin-stick shooter available for download on PSN, but what separates this title from its kin is its unique resource management mechanic during the campaign that is awkwardly absent from its other game modes. While aesthetically pleasing, the plentiful effects that invade the screen can completely obscure the going’s on, leading to some unnecessary vexation due to intrusive color effects and poor color scheme choices. The game might be more appropriate for those who commonly play shooter games since there’s commonly a decent amount of things to keep track of at once onscreen at any given point in time. Overall the game is enjoyable and quite fun if you can get the hang of it, so those who have exhausted other shooters of this type might appreciate Ion Assault HD, but it would be easily recommended that those new to this genre as a whole begin elsewhere as, well, it’s really freaking hard to see what’s going on a lot of the time.