Perhaps the next delightfully retro gaming genre set to invade the iPhone is the classic SHMUP, or 2D shoot-em-up for the unitiated. This is evidenced by the recent release of Sky Force Reloaded and now Hotfield from C2Matrix. There have certainly been prior entries such as rRootage, Space Deadbeef, Sentry Alpha and Sky Thunder but IMO none have offered the complete experience of the early 90’s arcade shooters…until now.
So HotField then is a vertical scrolling shmup in the classic style and with a whole bucketful of features, to whit:
- 3 ships to choose from with lots of weapon powerups
- 6 missions with unique graphics and bosses
- some actual 3D graphics
- 5 difficulty levels
- awesome chip-tune soundtrack
- the ability to record and playback your game, awesome!
- a boss mode so you can just fight bossses if you like pain
You can control the game in 2 -ways: using a touch interface or virtual d-pad. In my experience the d-pad was basically unplayable but I applaud the effort of its inclusion nonetheless. So for me that leaves the touch interface which fortunately works fairly well. Touch or drag your finger onscreen and your ship will follow; firing is thankfully automatic. Putting a second finger on the screen and holding charges up your limited-use mega-laser and when you release it’s good night bad guys. As expected, certain combinations of destroyed enemies release powerups that will beef up your main weapon, increase your health meter or grant a free life. You can also pick up ’star points’ left behind by downed enemies and when using the mega-laser (which converts enemy shots to star points), enough of which can also get you a free life. You also have a bullet-time option, accessed with a double-touch-and-hold, which slows everything down but you for a short time. Beyond that it’s total blast-a-thon goodness, shooting absolutely everything that moves until you reach the infamous boss fight. Boss fights get progressively harder and all provide the now-ubiquitous ‘bullet carpet’ where you have to dodge waves of bullets that change regularly in pattern. Also in classic fashion, bosses take forever to kill (sigh).
The game has an amusing anime-inspired story (really just banter between 2 big-eyed opponents) which plays out as you go that’s nothing deep but nonetheless entertaining. The gameplay is well-paced and the bosses difficult, pretty much right on par with the classic shmup formula. The graphics and sound are a dead ringer for 90’s retro shmup’s and the BGM is an excellent selection of chip tunes that definitely enhance the period feel.
However, I have some gripes. Whereas control with the arcade shooters was spot-on, this is unfortunately where HotField falters. In general, there are 2 schools of thought on how to handle ship control in an iPhone shmup. First is a 1 to 1 scheme where the ship follows your finger movements instantly, like a mouse pointer for example (think rRootage). Second is a relative scheme where the ship is a few milliseconds behind, basically intentionally trailing your finger. HotField takes the latter stance and unfortunately the overall effect can best be described as ‘laggy’. This is only amplified by the fact that the game very often gets bogged down in graphics rendering, slowing everything down which makes controlling the ship a chore and leads to ship damage/deaths that wouldn’t normally happen. Also an issue with the touch interface is that your finger is very often in the way, especially if you’re fat fingered. I wouldn’t normally fault the game for this since it’s not their fault the iPhone uses a touchscreen but the game inexplicably features enemies that come up from the bottom of the screen and this simply becomes much harder than it needs to be as a result. Adding to this problem is an overlay status bar at the bottom of the screen that will actually cover up your ship if you move to the extreme bottom, adding even more unnecessary difficulty.
If I could only make 1 suggestion, it would be to instate a 1 to 1 control scheme, at least for the boss fights. Since I can make as many as I want though, I also ask that the game be further optimized to reduce the render lag and fix the bottom status overlay thing.
As it is, the game has everything a classic shmup should and is lots of fun. If the developer will pledge their support with some updates to address the issues above this game will be best of class; as is it’s still recommended because of all the other things it does right.
Version reviewed – 1.0
Reviewed on – iPhone 3G 8GB 2.2.1
Global scoreboard – yes
iTunes music support – no
Lite version available – no