Back in June we reviewed a twin-stick shooter called JoyJoy, from the maker of Bombcats Special Edition. I found JoyJoy to be the absolute best game of its kind on Windows Phone, owing largely to its perfect controls and vibrant, peppy theme.
Now developer Radiangames is back with a shooter of a much different color: Super Crossfighter. Like JoyJoy, this game started life on the Xbox 360 where it was called Super Crossfire. The Windows Phone version (which launched simultaneously with Android and iOS, and supports 512 MB phones) has tons of balance tweaks and improvements that make it feel like a whole new game. Super Crossfighter is absolutely massive for a shoot-em-up, so genre fanatics won't want to miss it.
Warping to and fro
Super Crossfighter and JoyJoy are both shoot-em-ups, but the two games couldn't play more differently. Whereas JoyJoy resembles Geometry Wars in gameplay, Super Crossfighter hews much closer to Space Invaders and Galaga.
You won't need to worry about a second virtual stick or 360 degree aiming here; Crossfighter's ship fires straight ahead at all times. Meanwhile, the enemies move back and forth in simple left-and-right patterns à la Space Invaders. They never actually descend all the way into your ship though, so don't worry about getting squashed.
Seeing as how the Super Crossfighter ship can't move up or down, dodging enemy fire could get pretty hairy. Luckily, the game's unique warping mechanic gives players some freedom of movement. You can warp from the floor to the ceiling or vice versa at any time. This can help to avoid enemy fire, but the enemies can also flip and shoot up or down as well. The slightly 3D camera tilts along with the change between floor and ceiling, making for a dynamic (and possibly disorienting) perspective.
Many of the enemies in the game bear green shields that completely protect them from normal fire. Knocking out the nearby shield generators will disable those shields, at least. Alternatively, the rechargeable Super shot will blast shielded and unshielded enemies alike. To charge it up, you'll have to collect the purple gems dropped by enemies. Once you have enough gems, you can unleash a solid energy blast that tears through enemies – even shielded ones.
From time to time, a Space Invaders UFO-like ship quickly darts across the screen. Down it in time and the UFO will drop a power-up. You have to warp to pick up the item, a mechanic that should probably be explained by tutorial. Of the random item drops, one grants a temporary shield and another slows time for a while. There is at least one other power-up but I couldn't figure out what it does. Adding voice samples or on-screen text to identify the items would add some welcome clarification.
Campaign and upgrades
Super Crossfighter features a stunning 160-stage campaign, divided up into six chapters. Each chapter starts out with a little text crawl amounting to "the aliens are jerks, so we have to shoot them." The text is too serious and boring for its own good, but easily skipped.
After choosing between three difficulties (one of which must be unlocked), players will have to complete an entire episode in one go. You get several lives to work with, naturally. Should those run dry, you can continue from checkpoint waves (usually fairly close to where you died).
Every few waves, players will gain three skill points to spend on upgrades. You can choose between ten different upgrades, such as increasing your shot power, how far the shots spread, and ship armor (lives). Some upgrades cost more than three points. To get these expensive prizes you'll have to save up points instead of spending them.
The main campaign's 160 stages will take several hours to complete, which feels very generous given that most shmups are like 30 minutes long at most. But wait, there's more! Players can unlock a second "Dark" campaign with 160 more levels to blast through! Dark can only be played on the top two difficulties.
My main gripe about the campaign is its distinct lack of boss ships. Larger ships do pop up as you get farther into the levels, but they're still just part of normal levels. It would be more satisfying to face a true big boss at the end of every chapter.
Also, games like this really benefit from online leaderboards. Shame that Super Crossfighter doesn't have 'em.
Survival mode and Unlocks
As if two gigantic campaigns weren't enough, Super Crossfighter also packs three unlockable Survival modes. The goal in these is simply to rack up the highest possible score with a finite number of lives. The upgrades in each Survival mode are preset, adding to the challenge.
The Survival games, Ace difficulty, and other unlocks all cost Victory Points. You get these just from playing; there are no in-app purchases. Super Crossfighter's Unlocks menu has a ton of great stuff to choose from, including a score multiplier, a permanent extra shot for your ship's gun, and more.
My favorite unlockable is the Super Music Player. As you'd expect, it works like a sound test. But you can also alter the pitch and add filters to all nine songs. This creates some interesting and enjoyable variations on the game's standard techno soundtrack.
Speaking of music, I find that the sound effects drown out the music during gameplay. I wish we could adjust the volume of either element, but the game only lets you turn them on or off.
Finally, the game has several non-Xbox Achievements to earn. You get some Victory Points whenever you unlock one.
Surprisingly, JoyJoy's greatest strength ends up being Super Crossfighter's biggest weakness: the controls. The default control scheme has players moving the ship left and right using a slider at the bottom-left corner of the screen. The slider just feels weird and unresponsive, making the game less fun to play. There is also a tilt option, but that would never provide the responsiveness necessary for a shoot-em-up. Under these control types, pressing both thumbs on the screen simultaneously warps the ship.
Luckily, the "Arcade" control scheme is pretty good. Arcade replaces the movement slider with left and right buttons. It also adds a dedicated (and much appreciated) warp button at the bottom right corner of the screen. The game lets you adjust the distance between the left and right buttons somewhat, but the left button will always be too close to the corner of the screen. It never feels completely comfortable to me.
JoyJoy's virtual sticks were perfectly positioned and comfortably large as well. Super Crossfighter could follow that example by repositioning the movement buttons and placing them up and to the right a bit instead of so close to the edge of the screen. Alternately, a Gameloft-style virtual stick that repositions itself wherever the user places his or her thumb would work great. And for goodness' sake, don't make Slider the default control scheme!
Finally, the Android version supports MOGA controllers. So should the Windows Phone game.
Control issues aside, Super Crossfighter is one of my favorite shmups on Windows Phone. It has a good unique mechanic (warping), a crazy number of levels, and lots of fun things to unlock. This is a premium game, but it gives a lot more bang for your two bucks than similar titles. Shooting game fans will flip (or at least warp) over it.
- Super Crossfighter – Windows Phone 8 – 29 MB – $1.99 – Store Link