Xbox Live isn’t exactly overflowing with shoot-em-ups. After the pretty but generic and sadly unsupported by its developer OMG: Our Manic Game came along, it took over a year for the more serious Dodonpachi Maximum to arrive. Thankfully Shoot 1UP from indie developer Mommy’s Best Games launched less than a year after its predecessor, though only after experiencing several delays on the development side. But it’s here now and easily qualifies as the most fun shmup this reviewer has played in years.
Origins of a shooter
Shoot 1UP started its life in 2010 as an Xbox Live Indie Game on the Xbox 360. Nathan Fouts, formerly of Playstation developer Irrational Games, created the game entirely on his own – quite impressive, but not unheard of in the shoot-em-up genre. The Windows Phone version of Shoot 1UP loses the console game’s 2-player co-op mode (necessary due to WP7 restrictions in place when development started), but gains a fair helping of new content in return.
We’ll have many more insights in our next Xbox Live Developer Interview, coming this weekend!
Shooting on the go
Like Dodonpachi, Shoot 1UP is a vertically-scrolling bullet hell shoot-em-up. Your ship(s) automatically fire, so you mainly need to worry about moving around and dodging enemy bullets. To move, press and hold anywhere on the screen. You needn’t keep your finger directly on the ship; somewhere just below it works best. Holding your phone upside-down flips the screen; do this to avoid hitting the capacitive Windows Phone buttons by mistake.
On top of the normal shot, players also have access to a recharging flash shield. The shield doesn’t activate manually though; you have to tap the screen in order to use it. This damages nearby enemies and eliminates any bullets within its radius, making it an essential survival tool. The shield does so much damage that it’s practically essential for taking out tougher enemies and bosses quickly. But you might take fire before you’re able to activate it, so watch out.
The power of 30
Shoot 1UP’s big innovation comes from the titular 1-up system. Collecting the 1-ups that occasionally appear doesn’t give players an extra ship in reserve like it would in most games. Instead, the extra ship immediately joins the existing ship(s) on-screen, increasing the player’s firepower. If any ship gets hit by an enemy it is destroyed, and losing all ships results in a game over. It works sort of like gaining an extra ship in Galaga, but on a much larger scale since you can have up to 30 ships at once.
Not only does each new ship add an extra bullet to your stream of fire, but collecting enough ships can also bestow a powerful beam laser called the Plasma Auger, depending on ship formation. Yes, you can adjust the width of the formation by grabbing and pinching with two fingers. I find the pinching motion less convenient than it would be to simply press a button on the console version, but what can you do?
The wider the formation, the larger the beam laser you get. Enemies will also drop more valuable score medals. But spreading ships apart also makes them more likely to get hit, creating a great risk-reward mechanic. I tend to keep my ships at the minimum distance to enable the beam laser and then spread them out for a more powerful shot at the beginning of boss fights.
Shoot 1UP’s story mode offers three difficulty selections: Chilled, Normal, and Serious. Each difficulty level increases the amount of enemy fire as well as how much damage enemies take to kill. You can also turn the game speed all the way down to 25% or up to 200%, allowing for unprecedented control over the game’s challenge.
Most of Shoot 1UP’s seven stages offer a choice between two paths. The left path is ostensibly easier, while the right path increases the difficulty by shifting the scrolling direction. Instead of scrolling up like normal, the hard paths generally allow the player to turn the ship (and thus the direction the screen moves) in any direction. Steering gets awkward in the hard paths, but they contain the only 1-up and medal-spawning pies in the game.
Pies are necessary for both a handful of Achievements and unlocking the second of the game’s three ships. Playing with ship number two in turn unlocks the final one. Neither ship is more effective than the starting craft. They’re more for variety and challenge than anything.
In fact, the third ship (Windows Phone exclusive) is downright difficult to use because the direction of the pinching motion used to set ship formation actually changes the ship’s direction of fire. This makes formation control more unpleasant, but I suppose the ability to fire in other directions could be useful in a few circumstances.
The Xbox 360 version’s endless Score Trek mode becomes Score Tilt on Windows Phone. Rather than allowing players to change the difficulty, Score Tilt actually varies the game’s speed depending on the angle of the phone along the Y axis. Tilting the phone away increases the game speed and activates a score multiplier – both to various degrees, depending on the angle. Tilting forward slows the game down and reduces the multiplier. This adds yet another layer of risk-reward.
Clearing the last stage in Score Tilt starts a new, more challenging loop through the game, just like many Japanese shoot-em-ups. The game saves your progress so you can play as long as you want while chasing high scores. Score Tilt even has its own friends Leaderboard.
Shoot 1UP stands out from other games in the genre thanks to Nathan Fouts’ strange and surreal art style. The best examples are huge bosses like Stage 5’s Warship Globula - a naval battleship overgrown with alien tentacles, and Mecha Lilith, the robotic female boss of Stage 6 whose breasts fire shots from the nipples and can even launch right at the player. How can anyone not smile at that?
A few criticisms: first, the intro and ending haven’t been optimized for a vertical display. Here they are much too tiny, lessening their impact.
Second, while the sprites are interesting and detailed, everything in the game has a very flat look. This is true of every game from Mommy’s Best, and maybe that’s just fine. I’d still like to see more parallax and representations of depth though.
Also, each stage’s background consists of a few tiles pasted over and over in different combinations. It doesn’t feel like you’re actually flying anywhere because one part of the level looks just like every other part. Still, given the game’s indie origin and incredibly small team, we can’t hold that against it too much.
Speaking of the backgrounds, one of them picked up some needless censorship during the trip from Xbox 360 to WP7. Stage 6 has always featured a variety of sleeping female androids in its backdrop. While the ladies were indeed nude, screens covered their naughty bits. Now some stuffed shirt has chosen to paint on black undergarments, alas.
I only scraped a measly 85 GamerScore out of Dodonpachi Maximum, but reaped the full 200 from Shoot 1UP. Why? Turning the game speed down doesn’t disable Achievements! Completing the game with 30 ships and without losing a single ship is so much easier when playing at 25 or 50% speed. Actually, it took me a few tries, but only because I made a mistake here and there. In short, anyone should be able to earn all 20 Achievements.
Shoot 1UP may be a less serious shmup than Dodonpachi, but I find it so much more enjoyable. Instead of making the hardest possible game and asking players to adjust to the challenge, Mommy’s Best focused on making sure the player is actually having a good time. You can still crank up the difficulty and speed if you like, but nobody’s forcing you. Shoot 1UP is a fantastic game for beginners and veterans alike. The genre needs more games like this.
Shoot 1UP costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Marketplace.