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JoyJoy review: The most joyful twin-stick shooter on Windows Phone

Last month we named a little twin-stick shooter called JoyJoy as one of May's best new Windows Phone games. Now it's time to follow up with a full review!

JoyJoy comes from Radiangames, maker of the similarly fantastic Bombcats Special Edition. Radian originally published this one as an Xbox Live Indie Game on the Xbox 360 way back in 2010. Now a whole new audience can experience JoyJoy's simple shoot 'em up bliss along with an array of improvements and tweaks for mobile play. Fans of the genre won't want to miss it.

Wave mode

JoyJoy is an arena-based twin-stick shooter, not unlike console favorite Geometry Wars. This one consists of two game modes: Waves and Challenges. Waves is basically the campaign (though there is no story at all), consisting of 24 levels to blast through.

In both game modes, players can choose between five difficulties to start with. Beat Waves and you'll unlock two seriously tough bonus difficulties: Lightning and Armored. I find that the easiest difficulty "Relaxed" is the most appropriate for mobile play. You might still die every now and then, but the game never requires more precision than the controls can deliver. Challenge fiends will want to stick with Normal or above, though.

The game takes place within a colorful rectangular arena, with enemies spawning throughout the enclosure. Your goal is always the same – to blast everything that moves. Kill all of the enemies in a wave and the game will congratulate you with some positive message like "Spectacular!" or "Impressive" and then it's on to the next wave.

Every four waves you'll encounter a special wave. If it's a Swarm wave, an extra-large mass of enemies will spawn and try to overwhelm your ship. Boss waves on the other hand feature a single gigantic boss, possibly aided by a few smaller fighters. The background music doesn't change for special waves, undercutting their intensity a bit, but they're still a lot of fun.

Dying isn't the end of the world in JoyJoy. You get several lives to start with, and they refill when you reach a new wave. Certain items will increase the life limit too. If you do run out of ships, you can choose to continue on the same wave during that session. Come back later and you can start on any post-special wave level that you've reached before.


Challenge mode consists of a series of timed challenges, each lasting four minutes or until the player runs out of lives. Initially only two challenges are available: Swarmer Light and Shooter Light. Complete Waves mode and you'll unlock the remaining four challenges, including Variety Hour and Boss Rush. The latter alternates between Swarm waves and the game's three bosses. Can you kill them all before time runs out?

The main Challenges screen shows the number of attempts and how long the player survived in each of the challenges. I did run into a bug in which my times all showed up as zero, right after completing Boss Rush mode. The game even forgot which levels I had unlocked the next time I booted it up. Huge drag, but hopefully Radiangames will fix both problems in a future update.

Game mechanics and controls

It's hard to imagine a mobile game with better twin-stick controls than this one. Just put your fingers within the well-placed white circles and aim away; the left side controls movement while the right side directs the ship's fire. Let go of the virtual stick on the right and the ship will autofire on its own. But you'll scarcely want to go hands-off since the ship's movement and firing are extremely responsive.

In fact, JoyJoy really puts the Windows Phone version of Halo: Spartan Assault to shame. One guy working on his own churned out way more responsive controls than an entire team of developers – who'd have thought?

Next to the right stick is a button for switching weapons. JoyJoy gives players six weapons to choose from, although in my experience you're better off sticking with the homing shot (which fires little sperm-looking bullets) and spread shot. Thinner weapons will just get your swarmed. I wish we could toggle specifically between our favorite weapons instead of cycling through all six choices, but at least the game shows the lineup and currently selected gun at the top of the screen.

Ultra and power-ups

Downed enemies drop little stars. These aren't just sparkly things to collect; they charge up the ship's Ultra weapon. The Ultra is a new addition to the phone game, replacing a charged shot mechanic from the console version. By holding the button located next to the left stick, your ship will stay in place and fire a powerful stream of fire until the Ultra meter depletes. Not necessary during normal waves since it takes away your mobility, but it certainly helps a bunch against bosses.

A variety of power-ups spawn intermittently throughout both game modes. Some of their effects include boosts for specific weapons, extra lives, and speed boosts. My favorite power-up is the Vortex item. Grab it and a vortex will spawn in its place, sucking all regular enemies into one convenient location.

Options and features

JoyJoy includes a few cool options to tailor the game to your phone and play style, including stick sensitivity adjustments and flipped controls. You can also reposition the virtual sticks and buttons anywhere on-screen that you like, although the default positions are perfect on my Nokia Lumia 1520.

For phones that aren't quite as beefy as the Lumia 1520, the game even offers a few graphical settings. Turn down the textures and particles if they cause your phone to chug. As for the 1520, it runs everything maxed at a silky smooth 60 frames per second.

The game includes some non-Xbox Achievements, but their implementation is worse than you'd expect. Instead of popping up when you earn them mid-game, they just show up on the Achievements menu. It's really just a stats screen, with records of how many enemies, items, and stages you've gone through. Not a bad feature, but the excitement of seeing an Achievement pop isn't there.

One big missing feature is leaderboards. The store falsely claims that the game has them, but there isn't even a local high score board, much less an online one. You can see your highest score for individual waves and challenges, but that's not a leaderboard.

Games like this benefit greatly from online leaderboards since they encourage competition with other players. I don't think leaderboards are all that hard to implement, especially with middleware solutions like Scoreloop available to developers. Perhaps in a future update…

Overall Impression

Despite a few bugs and the absence of leaderboards, JoyJoy is one of the best twin-stick shooters to grace Windows Phone. The visuals are clean and colorful (with lots of great particle effects), and together with the peppy music they work perfectly with the game's joyful vibe. The controls are great and the game is super fun to play over all.

Although Radiangames does not offer a trial version, JoyJoy is a really safe purchase for twin-stick shooter fans. I really hope the developer brings this to Xbox One as well, especially since indie games are far more visible on the One than they were on the 360. But for now, it's a blast to play on the go.

  • JoyJoy – Windows Phone 8 – 45 MB – $1.99 – Store Link

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • Looks neat but I prefer games with trial :)
  • Really the game looks cool. Really this game needs a trial
  • Really really looks cool. Really really needs a trial :)
  • Trial needs a cool, really looks game :)
  • Cool needs a trial, looks game really :)
  • So doge
  • Tty the Xbox 360 version then, as it has a free trial. :-)
  • Very trial, game really needs a doge. :)
  • They use the "geometry wars" style allot. don't they :P
  • Looks like geometry wars
  • Trail? Just buy it
  • Moga support? no Moga no buy.
  • Great game. I have it on xbox. Just got if for my 1520.
  • It's very frustrating when an already existing Xbox game comes to Windows Phone without Xbox integration. #SaveXboxWP.
  • It's an XBLIG game so no need to be frustrated.
  • Interesting. I never owned an Xbox 360 so I didn't even know such things existed. Just an Xbox One where all games are 1000GS. Xbox games without achievements. Mind blown. I feel I should still be frustrated about something, then. I'll focus on the lack of a free trial! Game looks gorgeous, though.
  • Nostalgia . . . Geometry Wars :)
  • Hi Paul, Thanks for the review!  Sorry about the save bug.  I'll definitely check into that more.  As for the achievements, they should be showing up the moment you get them, though it's possibly to miss them if you're in the heat of battle.  Either way, I'll check into it to see if there's a bug. As for the trial issue: I'm sorry you guys are disappointed about that.  4 of my 9 WP8 games have trial modes, and they don't sell any better (maybe a little worse) than the non-trial ones.  I strongly dislike how Trial Mode is presented in the lists in the store, especially compared to Free games, which are promoted above all other games.  WP8 is also a low priority for me due to how poor my games sell on it, to be honest, so I tend not to spend extra time on it.  If WP8 actually *presented* trial mode as a positive of the platform (instead of burying it in the UI) I'd be happier to spend time on trial modes.  Not saying I'll never add trial mode to current/future games, just that so far my experience is that it's not worth the time spent on it as a developer. Xbox Live support: None of my games ever had achievements/leaderboards because they were all XBLIGs.  If there were a free (no approval/overhead/etc) achievement/leaderboard system for WP8 I would certainly use it.  If a third party had a simple cross-platform (iOS/Android/WP8) achievement/leaderboard system I would prefer that even more. MOGA: I have a MOGA Pro and the little MOGA, but haven't been able to get them to connect to my 521 or 925.  I have bluetooth support on Android already working (for JoyJoy and Fluid SE), and the game would respond to the same buttons on WP8 in theory (the code is enabled, I have no way to test it).  I'd be happy to finalize the WP8 support if anyone knows what steps I might be missing (I use Unity as my base engine). Anyway, I'm going to keep bringing my games to WP8 just because I like it so much.  Fluid SE just released, and Inferno 2 is coming later this summer.  Feel free to email me with any tips/suggestions on how to improve my games (on WP8 or in general) at  Thanks!
  • Great! Thanks for taking the time to talk to the Windows Phone community! I think everyone understands that it can be hard to devote developement time to a platform that brings little in monetary returns. This is probably the #1 thing keeping developers away from the WP platform. 
  • Interesting to hear from you. Thanks for posting. It's games like these that I constantly nag Microsoft to extend the ID(at)Xbox program to Windows Phone. I feel like it could really help small developers with great games get the recognition they deserve. The art design of this game is gorgeous. I especially like the box art logo.
  • Hey Luke! Have you tried the steps in our MOGA tutorial? Also, how about real adding leaderboards to the game?
  • Luke, I just purchased the game to support your development on Windows Phone.  Thank you for that.  Please try and go through the WPC Moga controller tutorial that Paul linked to.  I have been able to get my Moga Pro Power connected to my Icon with minimal issues.  Would love for you to get Moga support added to the WP versions of your games.  If you do, I'll definitely look into (and likely buy) your other games as it gets added to them. Do you have any plans to bring your games to the Windows 8 store?  Would love it if you developed them as Universal Apps and tied game progress, leaderboards, etc together across W8/WP8.
  • Paul good review on the game
  • Thanks Nakialj!