Iridion II (GBA/Shin'en)
by N. Rambutan
I haven't played the original Iridion for the GBA yet. I hear it's a good, but not great, shooter.
Thank goodness for sequels, then!
Graphics and Sound
Iridion II's most notable features are it's rather spectacular graphics and sound engines. As many of you have seen from the video of the gameplay released last year, the game just looks and sounds gorgeous. The music is also particularly good, with some nice tunes and a well-paced beat.
What probably makes Iridion II look so damned amazing are the backgrounds. You'd swear they were full motion video by how smooth they animate. Giant fan blades whirr, flaming lava burbles, metal railings roll by, and alien foliage zooms past you with remarkable smoothness. However, none of it is distracting, thankfully. It's all generally patterened, which makes picking out bullets and enemies easier than you'd imagine.
In addition to the backgrounds, the level obstacles all animate well, too. The prerendered and scaled obstacles scroll past you smoothly with a nice sense of "perspective". I remember playing Axelay on the SNES years ago, and the Mode 7 scaling in that game seemed almost like the background and obstacles were placed on a cylindrical roller (but wasn't bad by any means - it's still a beatiful-looking game). Iridion II's scaling is much better. What is also good about most non-shooting obstacles is that you can actually touch them without dying instantly. Considering the game later gets hectic, and the GBA screen real estate is "small", dying by accidentally tapping a floating barge would really become frustrating quickly.
The enemies all look great. The developer Shin'en did a great job of making each enemy animate well and distinctly. There are some enemies that are quite fluid, like some of the robotic wormy enemies that "swim" through one early level. They seem to pulsate and swerve through the level so gracefully. In addition, the bosses each look fantastic, and no two are alike as far as I've seen. You can make out enemy and boss patterns clearly against the background as well as the bullets.
The music as I said is pretty cool. The intro of the game's Story Mode is surprising because it's a fully voiced track explaining the events of the past one hundred years since the original Iridion. One really cool addition to the game is the ability to change the intro music on the main screen of your game session. You can modify several tracks along with the chord, bass and drums. This is a really neat feature, and would be great to see in other games someday.
Simply put, this is a really fun shooter. The difficulty progression is great and the enemy patterns are varied. Iridion II is also geared toward shoot-em-up fans with some of the extra features included as you complete more of the game.
Old school shooter fans will see very subtle, but well done, nods to other games in the genre, particularly Axelay, R-Type, and Space MegaForce. That's not to say that the game is derivative of any of those games. Rather, Iridion II is it's own game, highlighting the best of what's good in shooters. I won't spoil any of these elements for you, but there were a couple of times when I was playing this evening that I smiled and said to myself "ohh yeah, I remember that - how slick!".
Upon starting a game, you are given the choice of starting weapon and Auto-Upgrade on or off. With Auto-Upgrade off, you are able to switch between all six of the special weapons using the L and R buttons. You will also be able to select which weapon to power up to one of three levels when you pick up a powerup icon, and gain health by powering up a weapon when it's on level three. With Auto-upgrade on, you are only able to use the starting weapon through the entire level, but powerup icons automatically boost you to level three, and extra powerups automatically boost your health if it drops to below 50%.
The control is straightforward, with the A button firing your main weapon and a double-tap and hold of the A button which charges your super shot. The B button activates the powerup icons you pick up in non-Auto-Upgrade mode. Pressing both L and R buttons fires your bomb. As you can see, there's a flash of R-Type and Gradius there. Weapons include the standar red bullet shot, scattershot (similar to the Aleste series), semi-tracking bullets, tracer lasers, four-way shot, and for fans of Axelay, the wide shot that rotates depending on how long you hold the A button down (giving you a 360 degree field of attack).
Personally, I like this powerup system. It gives you the freedom to use weapons you need immediately, instead of relying on specific special weapons floating about a level.
Enemies are no slouch at making you sweat later in the game. This goes doubly for the bosses of each level. The first few bosses merely have you dodging bullets and their physical attacks. Later bosses toss in some rather unique challenges. One particular boss can push you away from centering on its weak core. Another boss requires that you blast the spinning shield panels which each individually extend outward revealing it's vulnerable center. Overblast one panel and you'll find that it can reach out enough to smack you while the others stay closer to the center, protecting the area you need to shoot. I won't spoil the other boss encounters, but needless to say, they are a great challenge on the higher difficulty levels.
At the end of each level you are given a rather complete rating of your performance:
Hits/Shots - Total of actual hits versus total shots fired in that level
Ranking - This is the rating based on the Hits/Shots rating
Time Needed - How long it took you to finish the level
Life Bonus - Points given for how much life you have left on your meter after you complete the level
Accuracy Bonus - Points given based on the Hits/Shots rating
Smart Bomb Bonus - Bonus points given for how many bombs you have left
I think that's really cool. It's even cooler when you consider that you can take advantage of high level ratings and overall points by comparing them to other players of the game online. As you finish the Story Mode, you gain the ability to replay the individual levels you've beaten in Arcade Mode. At the end of each level in Arcade Mode you are given a password (different from the Story Mode passwords given) that records your score and ratings. By going to the official Iridion II website and entering your code, you are able to compare your performance with other players of the game. Sweet! I think the same goes for Challenge Mode (which is unlocked after finishing Story Mode) where you challenge each boss rather than each level.
Here's the main screen where you can select any level you've beaten in Story Mode. Go to the ranking page to enter your code.
On top of the online ranking ability, you can also unlock the game's Jukebox to listen to the game's soundtrack and sound effects. You can also unlock a Gallery and view the enemies from the game.
Yeah, "yow". My brother-in-law was playing the game this afternoon, and he ran into a memory error with the game. On top of a maroon background was some text mentioning an out of memory type message, some odd code that probably was some memory location, and then a message at the bottom to hit Start to reset. Odd. I don't know the circumstances of how that happened, but I couldn't duplicate it at all after that.
This is a great game and is available for such a great price ($14.99 US everywhere). The gameplay is great and well orchestrated. Of course, the sumptuous graphics and great sound help, but even if this game was just a plain "Mode 7" game, I still would like it just as much. It's fun, it's engaging, and the online ranking ability give it replayability beyond most GBA shooters.
My only qualm with the game thus far is that you have to enter a password to return to the level you've gotten to in Story Mode. There is no battery save at all. Unless you enter the password at the beginning of every game session, everything in the game resets to the default settings. Shooters don't typically have saves of course, but a quick save or sleep mode that "expires" after returning (like in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow) would be nice, as well as the ability to save your high scores. Unless you write down your Arcade Mode password, there's no way to record your high score at all.
In the end, that's a really small complaint (if I could even call it a complaint). Pick this game up and, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!