Review: Big Bang Mini (Nintendo DS)

Big Bang Mini
Developer: Arkedo
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Genre: Shoot “ËœEm Up
Release Date: 1/21/09


The first thing most people might notice about the game is the packaging. The game comes swathed in a thick cardboard with a lenticular front. I imagine some might be mesmerized enough by the moving flicking things that they could just sit there for hours tilting the box back and forth like someone surfing a hallucinogenic drug induced high might be completely spellbound by wood grain.

So does the packaging reflect the quality of the contents, or is it merely compensating for something much like one might use an exorbitant car to blind viewers to any shortcomings?

Modes
There are a total of seven modes in this game. The first one is the tutorial, which you’re required to go through in order to access the rest of the game if you’re just starting for the first time, as the only other item open to you would be the options menu. Thankfully, it’s not overbearingly long and actually does a good job on getting you acquainted with the basics of the gameplay. After the tutorial comes Arcade Mode, wherein you go through nine worlds, each containing nine levels and a boss fight. There’s also another boss after you beat the final world’s boss. Upon completing Arcade mode, you’ll unlock Mission Mode. In Mission Mode, you go through one of the stages or bosses you encountered in Arcade mode while adhering to a given condition, such as completing a stage with a limited number of shots, killing a boss within a time limit, or avoiding hitting any clouds.

In terms of multiplayer, you have only one option for direct play against others. Versus Mode lets you play against another opponent through the local wireless network. It even supports single-card download play, which is convenient if one person doesn’t have a copy of the game. Over Wi-Fi, the only interactivity you have with other people is to upload your scores from Challenge Mode to a leaderboard. In Challenge Mode you try to survive as long as you can against an endless barrage of enemies to score points. I wish there was a way to go head-to-head with other people over Wi-Fi – it was done in Space Invaders Extreme, why not here?

Outside of the gameplay options, there’s also two other modes at your disposal. If you want to enjoy or even create fireworks without having to constantly worry about fending off enemies, then Relax Mode fits the bill. In it, you simply shoot fireworks wherever and how much you please. If you’d rather have the game do all the work, you can set that up as well. There’s even an unlockable Alarm Clock should you want to wake up to one of the songs from the game. Overall, there’s plenty to keep you busy for a while, though the online mode feels a little lacking.

Modes: Good

Graphics
The gameplay interface is fairly minimal. On the top screen are the enemies (though in some levels they come down to the bottom screen), and your ship is on the bottom screen. The enemies will rain down bullets and beams at you, as such entities in games like this are wont to do. On the left side of the bottom screen is a meter that fills up as you collect stars. Your ship, the meter, and your shots take on a different form depending on which world you’re in. Defeating an enemy causes it to explode in a fire flower shaped burst.

Each world has its own theme, and they’re all vividly colored. For instance, New York has a comic/superhero theme, Kamakura takes place in a ghost village, Luxor has a pixelated Egyptian theme, and Abyss, the final level, takes place underwater. In terms of flashiness, it’s comparable to Geometry Wars and and the aforementioned Space Invaders Extreme, so if you liked the lucent scheme of those games, you’ll be pleased with the graphics here. The game looks nice overall and has a quirky visual style.

Graphics: Great

Sound
The soundtrack has a nice range of tracks, and they all suit their corresponding area well. To list just a few examples, the music in Nairobi has a tribal feel to it, the drumbeat heavy BGM in Rio de Janerio complements the rhythm game-esque theme of the level, and the New York theme sounds like something you’d hear in a superhero cartoon. In contrast to the more upbeat tracks, the Kamakura music carries a haunted ambience, and the Abyss music is rather soothing, which corresponds with both the setting and the fact that you have to take your time more in those levels. The track that plays in the Challenge Mode menu even sounds like there should be some cartoonish drill sargent yelling, “Alright, maggots, march! Left right left!” My personal favorite tracks are the New York and Abyss themes, though the others were easy on the ears as well.

Sound: Very Good

Control and Gameplay
You live by the stylus, you die by the stylus.

No wait, that’s the sword. But I digress.

In case you didn’t figure it out: the vast majority of the controls in this game are carried out with the stylus. To move your little ship, you simply drag it to where you want it. To shoot, you swipe the stylus forward. You can fire from anywhere on screen, but you can’t move and shoot at the same time, which is something I disliked in the shooting segments of Lunar Knights, but I adjusted. The control scheme is pretty easy to get a handle of, though it can be imprecise at times. As you can imagine, it is quite easy to end up moving your ship up instead of firing if you’re not careful. I ran into more instances that I’d like where I went to shoot and I’d end up moving forward instead, sometimes right into a projectile. There were also times I’d try to move sideways and I’d fire a shot sideways instead and have to deal with more to dodge. Sometimes I’d aim straight and the shot would go off on an angle instead. In the world with the time freeze upgrade, I’d sometimes accidentally activate it when I was trying to fire a lot of shots. It doesn’t hamper gameplay too badly, but it’s still unseemly in a game that requires split-second reactions, especially when you have to go back and forth between moving and shooting. I wish there was the option to move using the D-pad, though one could look at the alternating between moving and shooting as just another challenge or quirk to deal with.

There are a total of six upgrades you can obtain through the course of the game. Four of them can only be used in one world, while two of them are permanent. They include a vortex that absorbs all projectiles, homing missiles, a mirror shield, a fireball scatter shot (which can backfire on you if you’re not careful since the fireballs bounce around wildly), a bullet repeller, the ability to stop time for a few seconds, and a lasso that erases any enemy fire it ensnares. I found the mirror shield particularly useful and wished it was one of the permanent upgrades, as a strategically placed shield can clear the screen of enemies. It would’ve been nice to have the option to play around with the non-permanent upgrades outside of their respective worlds in some capacity, but such is not the case here.

Most of the upgrades are activated via stylus, like holding down the stylus to activate the fireball shot or swiping backwards to stop time. The homing missile is the only one to use one of the buttons, as it’s activated by holding down one of the shoulder buttons while shooting. Those missiles deal half as much damage as regular shots, but they’re also more accurate. In some situations they’re handy, since regular shots shatter into many little particles and scatter all around if they hit the edge of the screen. Naturally, if one of said particles touches you, it’s light out for you, so you’ll have to exercise caution if you decide to go with the “fire many shots at once” method. Since the homing missiles don’t have this effect, they’re good to use if you need precision and already have enough projectiles to evade. On the other hand, other situations might render sticking with regular shots in order to get rid of the enemies faster as the more advisable choice. During boss fights, you cannot use any upgrades, whether permanent or world, so becoming proficient at aiming regular shots is a necessity, as is maintaining a balance between dodging shots and firing off shots of your own. You’d be surprised at just how small a space between bullets your ship can fit into without getting hit.

As you defeat enemies, they’ll drop stars. In order to complete a level, you need to collect enough stars to fill the meter. If you miss too many stars when facing a group of enemies, the same group will keep coming until you gather enough, at which point they will vanish along with the projectiles they were firing at you. At the end of every level is a bonus mode in which you hit numbered dots in order to form an image. As you get further in the game, you may have to deal with other obstacles while attempting to complete this task, such as breaking the ice covering each dot, hitting them at the right time, or watching the dots flash in a certain order then replicating it.

In Versus Mode, you’re required to hold the DS like a book, which feels odd given that outside of Versus you hold it normally. So if you’re playing against someone, that’s an adjustment to have to make on the fly. But it doesn’t take that long to adapt.

Control and Gameplay: Very Good

Replayability
If there were bonus stages you didn’t complete, it could be worth your while to go back and complete them if you’re a completionist like me or just want to unlock Relax Mode. After you beat all the arcade levels, missions, and bonus stages, however, there’s not much reason to go through them again unless you just really enjoyed them. There is always going through Challenge Mode to earn a high enough score to top the leaderboard, if that suits your fancy.

Beating all the missions in Mission Mode nets you the alarm clock, which feels somewhat anticlimactic after what those missions put you through. They should come out with an alarm clock that has, “I got through all those missions and all I got was this lousy alarm clock” on it. Come on, it’s totally a merchandising gold mine, especially if they style it the same way as they did the box.

Replayability: Above Average

Balance
The game goes easy on you at first to let you get used to the controls and gameplay, then ramps up the difficulty on you as you progress further. In one world, a wall gradually closes in on you unless you keep killing enemies. In another, “bad weather” renders your homing missiles useless. The final world includes mines that explode if you hit them one too many times and forces you to periodically pick up air bubbles on pain of drowning. The unlimited continues does mitigate the difficulty somewhat, as you do get to retry the level without having to worry about being forced to repeat an entire world. Though it’s still disheartening to be one star away from completing the level or on the final boss form, only to get hit by a stray shot and have to go through the entire stage/boss fight all over again from the beginning. Although you might find yourself wanting to pound your head against a wall after failing at a stage or boss for the jillionth time, you never feel like the game’s cheating or that the stage/boss is unbeatable. It essentially boils down to pattern recognition, and once you have that you’ll know what to do, though actually doing it can get tricky.

Balance: Great

Originality
Just a small sampling of the kinds of enemies you face down in this game include floating duck heads wearing helmets and holding hockey sticks, sinister looking clowns that throw daggers, and turtles on parachutes donning chef hats and chucking croissant boomerangs. The final boss is composed of letters and words and attacks you with them. You also encounter some solid colored enemies, and the only way to kill them is to send one of your shots through the corresponding colored cloud first (this will also change the color of your ship). For example, shoot the blue cloud first to kill a blue enemy, shoot the pink cloud then shoot the pink enemy, and so on. They really pulled out the stops to come up with some unique and wacky designs, and it shows. In the New York levels, you can tap on an enemy that comes on the bottom screen to take their weapon. Kudos to Arkedo for the creativity.

Originality: Classic

Addictiveness
If nothing else, there are far worse ways to cramp your hands. Then again, depending on perspective, there are also better ways. But considering how messy those could get, let’s not get into those. I was mystified as to why my hands would be cramping when I’ve played touch screen usage heavy games like the Trauma Center games and The World Ends With You for hours. Then again, I was trying to rush through all the levels, and not only because of this review. Even when a level repeatedly squashed me, I would instinctively hit the retry option. There’s nothing like that rush of satisfaction after taking down a tough level or boss, after all.

Addictiveness: Incredible

Appeal Factor
Considering this is a budget priced game, it’s amazing how much they packed in here. The price tag and packaging will likely entice people. Those who hate stylus reliant controls (in which case what are they doing with a DS?) will probably want to stay away. On the other hand, those looking for a solid bullet curtain type of game will get their fill with this.

Appeal Factor: Good

Miscellaneous
I do like the tongue-in-cheek humor Arkedo presents themselves with. The instruction manual contains tips interspersed with wacky ones like, “Don’t play with your eyes shut. It makes it very difficult to see what you’re shooting at” and “…It is not recommended to play Big Bang Mini in the bath tub. You could easily drop your system into the water, and that is a bad thing!” Stuff like that should be common sense, but if it’s not…well, I don’t know what to tell you. Their attitude towards piracy is a whole lot better than the system breaking DRM some other companies try to surreptitiously install on unwitting consumers’ systems (not naming names or anything. Cough cough). For example, in the projects section on the official website: “Nervous Brickdown plays sooo much better on retail box than an R4. Srsly.”

Miscellaneous: Great

The Scores
Modes: Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Great
Originality: Classic
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary: Big Bang Mini is a quirky and addictive shump that makes good use of the touch screen, even if the controls are a bit finicky at times and the multiplayer options are limited. Those who love pyrotechnics and live in an area where trying to create their own fireworks show would land them in cross purposes with the law can live vicariously though this game. At $20 it really gives you a bang for your buck (and I’m sure you’re all banging your heads against the nearest hard surface at that pun).

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