Can a genre this stale make a comeback?
If obscure, niche games are what you're after, the DS is chock full of quality items, especially if you're in the market for shmups. The genre is one of the DS' strengths, and the touch screen ensures accuracy; one would assume that the system would have plenty of games in the genre utilizing the hardware well, right? Unfortunately not. While there are many different types of top-down shooters on the humble handheld, none have utilized the hardware nearly as well as they could. Big Bang Mini is the exception to the rule -- and thanks to Arkedo's audacity, it plays wonderfully.
If you aren't a grizzled veteran to the genre, Big Bang Mini will be tough; even if you are the game presents a challenge, and for some the difficulty level will be a game breaker. If you think you can handle the heat, though, Big Bang Mini's controls and design are fantastic.
Big Bang Mini is a top-down shooter spanning both DS screens, with enemies and debris mainly on the top screen. You control a small ship on the bottom screen by touch and drag, similar to the Nanostray series (although a bit more comfortable). This is very accurate and allows for some truly jaw-dropping maneuvers -- most of the time. Occasionally the game may misread a command, or just neglect it altogether. The accurate shooting more than makes up for this, however. Flick upwards on the touch screen and a bullet will go where you pointed. The easy-to-memorize controls are unique in that you cannot move your ship and shoot at the same time, which ensures the player can't blindly spam bullets while avoiding enemy fire to win.
It is a joy to play Big Bang Mini, and the engrossing control scheme breathes life into a genre on life support. The overall style of play is similar to that of Space Invaders or one of its thousands of copy-cats, but the fresh presentation, variety of modes and peerless control scheme ensure Big Bang Mini stands out from the crowd.
While the controls are simple, there are plenty of special moves to keep the game engaging. Homing missles, shields, a Ditto-esque move that steals an enemy's attack, etc. -- Big Bang Mini has all the standard spices and then some.
Despite being an excellent game, Big Bang Mini also manages to be a very portable one -- a rare accomplishment. Missions typically last a minute or two, and are addicting whether you're at home or at work; the level of challenge certainly encouraged me to compete in Challenge Mode for quite a few hours. Some boss fights you'll definitely want to revisit again and again. Perhaps most enticingly, just looking at the game is reason enough to play.
With 3D backgrounds and 2D art to represent your ship and enemies, Big Bang Mini is pure eye candy by any standard. The wacky art style is accompanied by detailed 3D, and the fireworks explosions are simply gorgeous; the technical aspects of games will be outdated in a few years, but style will last forever, and this game is proof of that. The soundtrack is equally as appealing, boasting a varied soundtrack that manages to sound great despite the low-quality DS speakers.
Longevity may present a concern for those who have been burned by the short lives of other top-down shooters, but once again Big Bang Mini prevails in this area -- Challenge Modes, Relax, Online Leaderboards, Multiplayer and an impressive 90 levels ensures you'll keep Big Bang Mini in your pocket for dozens of hours to come... If you are good at it. One design choice I feel was misguided is that the player has to unlock everything by conquering the main mode. It takes awhile to do this, and many players simply won't have the skill to do so (the final level is excruciatingly dificult).
The DS has plenty of shooters of all shapes and sizes, but in my opinion Big Bang Mini is the best one to grace the system yet. It takes full advantage of what makes a DS a DS, and in doing so is a unique fusion of classic and new gameplay that should be played by any shmup fan. Plus, it's $20.