Alpha Zero is a brand new SHMUP (shoot 'em up), from Funkoi that brings a new control style to the genre and wraps it all up in a brilliant 2.5D package. But does this game take all other mobile SHMUPs and threaten to shut 'em up? Or will it just send you to your own personal bullet hell?
Alright, I'm not even going to bury the lead. Alpha Zero one of the best shooters I've played this year, if not the best. Sure, we've seen a whole mess of great-looking shoot 'em-ups out there that use a 2.5D style and boast sharp visuals. And yes, a lot of those games are also a lot of fun and are capable of destroying our free time. The story isn't mind-blowing, but it serves its purpose and sets up the action. There is an alien race called the Varcons that are trying to wipe out humanity and harvest the energy of the Sun. It's up to your character Bishop, his A.I. named Ivy, and the experimental Alpha Zero ship to save the human race.
Sounds exciting enough, right? Sure, it's a cool premise and gives us impetus to blast aliens out of the vacuum of space. Honestly, it's not much different from anything we've seen before, even with all of the fine voice-acting and semi-interesting dialogue. What really makes Alpha Zero stand out are its amazing controls.
You won't find any twin virtual thumbsticks, directional pads, or shoot-to-fire buttons in Alpha Zero. Instead, the game lets you use multi-touch controls for a more natural, fluid, and intuitive shooting experience. You can use up to two fingers to fire the Alpha Zero's vulcan cannons, with the ability to fire each cannon in different directions. Tapping on the ship itself will let you drag it around, as quick or as slow as you please. This means that you can have screen full of projectiles but still manage to thread your way through the hailstorm of bullets unscathed.
This ease of movement is integral to the game's fun factor because it can get pretty hard, even at the lower "Cadet" difficulties. There are varied enemy types and objects in levels that will hamper your progress unless you can find their weak points, which usually involves flying around until you can maneuver behind an enemy.
I always thought that being able to control a ship that could move as fast as my finger would make a game too easy. But I was proved wrong when one sequence had me slipping in and out of small spaces between giant asteroids, which was surprisingly difficult, even with the responsive touch controls. So even with the stellar controls, the game comes with a difficulty that complements the fluid movements.
For all of its satisfying gameplay, Alpha Zero is woefully short. The story only lasts for eight missions spread over two campaigns, though a third campaign is locked and will be coming soon. You can always play through each level on different difficulty settings and rack up the coins needed to upgrade your ship, but the game can be completed with minimal upgrades. I managed to finish with a Level 4 Vulcan Cannon, Level 3 Missile Launcher, and Level 6 Ship Armor. And beating the game got me the 34th slot of All Time on the Tablet Campaign Leaderboard (top 15%, suckas!).
So, other than the fact that it ends pretty quickly, is there anything bad about this game? Well, if I had to dig for any faults, it would be that due to the nature of the controls, your hands will sometimes block the screen and you'll be unable to see the Varcon ships firing missiles at your face. And sometimes when you're hit by projectiles, the explosions around your ship are so bright that you can't really see what you're doing. But other than that, this game is all gravy.
It's got a fantastic soundtrack, eye-meltingly beautiful graphics, fast and fluid gameplay, and a short-but-fun story that drives the action forward. For all of these reasons and more, Alpha Zero is now one of my favorite games on the iPad. Pick it up now while it's on the cheaper side and get those fingers sliding around!