(iOS – iPod touch Review) RayForce

Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito / Square Enix
Genre: Shooter
Players: 1
ESRB: 4+
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 5 = Average

Taito and Square Enix’s RayForce joins a growing number of shooters that have made their way from consoles to iOS. Cave has been making serious inroads in the app market as of late with full and free trial versions of several of their titles, including DoDonPachi Resurrection and Deathsmiles. To accommodate for the handhelds’ limitations, all of the releases have been tweaked in order to address the smaller viewing space and lack of tactile buttons. Unlike Cave’s offerings, however, RayForce, while remaining a fantastic shooter, lacks the same kind of design foresight necessary to justify its $11.99 price tag.

RayForce is a natural fit for iOS, really. Released in 1993 for the Sega Saturn by Acclaim as Galactic Attack, the game’s core mechanics focus around two attack types, a standard shot and a lock-on laser. Following a similar approach to Cave, Taito has the shot always on by default. This approach not only significantly cuts down on screen interaction, which is a huge plus that I’ll get to shortly, but it also makes sense as you rarely ever stopped firing in the original Galactic Attack. Instead, the challenge is shifted to dodging incoming projectiles and maximizing the use of the lock-on laser. The laser is similar in design but slightly different than the lock-on weapons found in Rez and the Panzer Dragoon series in that it is used solely on enemies below your fighter, the RVA-818 X-LAY. While the shots take care of enemies on the same plane, the laser locks onto enemies stationed or approaching from below. It’s a small difference, but a significant one.

The automatic shot doesn’t really detract from the experience, which is largely due to the fact that the small screen quickly fills up with bullets as it is. The ability to turn off the automatic shot can help to alleviate some of the confusion, but since enemies are constantly approaching, it’s best just to leave it on. There’s also an optional automatic feature that takes over both shots and lasers for a button-free experience, but that’s a bridge too far.

With two modes available, iPhone and Arcade, there would seem to be plenty of options for gamers to find the right setup for them. Unfortunately, while both work to alleviate the port’s two main problems, there is no complete solution. For all that the iOS version gets right, it happens to stumble in two very important areas: control and efficient use of the limited gameplay space.

Arcade Mode maintains the ship’s speed as it was in the arcade original while iPhone Mode increases the speed to better follow finger movement. Regardless of the mode chosen, however, there’s lag. The game also offers a Zoomed view and an Original view; the former takes up the entire screen, with the on-screen buttons overlaid on the playing field, while the latter maintains the original arcade aspect ratio by adding a frame. Each view has its own problem. Original’s frame provides an area for the on-screen buttons and space to move the ship around ala sliding gestures, but the objects become so small that it is extremely difficult not to get hit. On the flip side, Zoom enlarges the enemies and projectiles so that they are easier to spot, but the lack of a frame means that the finger used to control the ship will cover up significant portions of the play space, making an already difficult game even more so.

It’s a shame that more care wasn’t taken to take into account play space and lag as the game itself is aces (pun very much intended). The levels are imaginative, following a loose narrative of mankind returning to take back a now citadel-like Earth from an errant AI, with some great enemy wave compositions that cleverly incorporate the multiplane approach. Power-ups increase shot potency and the amount of lasers that can be fired at a time, maxing out at eight, which creates the sort of grab-the-item tension that normally propels players to feats of daring in the quest for greater firepower. However, while that effect is still very much in play here, such moments tend to be less exciting and more nerve-wracking as the lag means those near misses of Galactic Attack are more likely to be game-ending impacts.

RayForce also supports Achievements and Leaderboards through Game Center integration. Unfortunately, its implementation is about as slapdash as the controls, with all of the text in Japanese. Much like the game itself, it’s serviceable but not optimal.

There are some nice touches, though. Both iPhone and Arcade allow for single-level playthroughs for those times when you want to practice or just revisit a favorite area, as well as the option to go through each area in succession. The arcade intro is also available through Arcade when ‘All’ areas are chosen to play through, providing the most arcade-like experience for longtime fans. Still, all the extras in the world can’t make up for the dodgy controls.

For the super dexterous shooter fans out there, or just those who can find a comfortable rhythm with one of the control schemes, RayForce is a great buy. For the majority of players, though, the control lag and lack of a truly optimized play space will make retaking Earth feel like a chore. RayForce might be able to hold its own against Cave’s best, but not its iOS port.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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