Amiga nostalgia weekend part 1

As alert viewers will have noticed, it's been iPod Week here on WoSblog.

So in an effort to post something at least slightly more interesting to those of you who inexplicably haven't got an iPod yet (despite them being available for just £6 to WoS Subscribers), and in honour of the appearance of Pinball Dreams for free a couple of days ago, this weekend we're going to look at a couple of Amiga classics that have just made the jump to the 21st century.

While it's very fondly recalled by many Amiga users, I never really got Deluxe Galaga. I didn't recall anyone ever playing Galaga and saying "You know what this really needs? RPG elements and a pair-matching memory-test subgame every other level".

I always found DG slow and far too easy, it was infested with some of the godawful noodly sub-techno music that European coders bafflingly clung to in the 1990s, and it still thought that powerups that reversed your controls were a great bit of gameplay design. Hngh.

Still, enough people liked it for it to be updated and brought to the PC when the Amiga died, in the form of Warblade – a version with very similar design but slicker, smoother, zippier and more enjoyable, and which still had control-reversing powerups. Gnuk.

Now Warblade has finally completed the long journey into the present, and this week showed up on the App Store. Available at the time of writing for a very reasonable introductory price of 59p, it's a faithful and well-executed port of the PC game, which means it's still got control-reversing powerups. Sigh.

First, some good news for anyone who played the pretty respectable Lite version that's been out for a couple of weeks, or who just watched the official trailer which raised the hideous spectre of manual firing. The final game has a  full set of control options, including tilt and digital d-pad, but most significantly a very iPod-friendly system where you simply slide your finger along the FIRE bar to move and your guns autofire as long as you're touching the screen. It makes playing the game very pleasant, though I couldn't work out how to fire the rocket weapon. (In fact, judging by the screenshots above, that may be because I never managed to collect one.)

You get two gameplay modes – the standard 100-level Mission mode (which loops seemingly endlessly on completion), and a three-minute Time Trial where you're already kitted out with the powerful Plasma weapon and have to maximise your score without losing your three lives, against some of the game's tougher enemy squadrons. You can't change your weapon in Time Trial mode, but don't worry – there's still a control-reversing powerup. Kzzkt.

Time Trial mode is important, because the main Mission game is, in accordance with its bloodline, far too easy.  Despite the narrower iPod screen making things a bit more intense, on my second attempt I saved up a bit of cash early on, bought the most powerful weapon, and then fought through to Level 297 and a score of 386 million without losing a single life. I eventually gave up through boredom and battery expiration (the game had gone on for over two hours) rather than any increased difficulty brought about by reaching what seems to be the highest normally-achievable rank – Warblade Grandmaster with three gold stars.

The biggest hazard became avoiding the numerous power-down icons, especially the ones dropped by aliens shot at point-blank range, but I had so much money and armour that even with crappy guns I only had to survive a wave or two at most before I could just buy the super-plasma again. But basically I'm pretty sure I could have kept playing until I'd achieved any score I wanted.

You get online leaderboards and lots of OpenFeint achievements and detailed stats, so at least there's something to aim for beyond a simple high score, but the game really needs a one-life endurance mode to provide some sort of challenge for those of us with reactions pitched somewhere above "drunk sloth". At 59p you're certainly not being ripped off, and those of you with poorer co-ordination and motor skills may well find it one of the more enjoyable shmups in the App Store. But this is a pretty game just waiting for a spine.

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