mikelemmer's Titan Attacks! (PC) review

A Good Shmup with an Annoyingly Hard Endgame

Download Size: 100MB

Time Played: 2 hrs.

Gave Up On: Lvl 100 boss

That One Enemy: That last Divebomber

What I'd Pay: $5

Steam Price (2/5/12): $5

Titan Attacks! mashes up a lot of classic shmup elements very well, making for an enjoyable experience up until the final stage. Comparing it to Space Invaders is the easiest reference, but each of the 5 stages adds a different classic to the mix, from Asteroids to Galaga to Centipede to... well, I'm not sure where Saturn's mechanic comes from, but I'm sure they didn't break the pattern. Combine that with crisp graphics, tight control, an upgrade system, and a checkpoint system that lets you do better runs on old stages for more money on new stages and you have a definite contender, if not the outright winner the developers were shooting for.

Aliens attack from above, you shoot them down (or use a smart bomb if things get dicey). There's also UFOs for powerups, parachuting aliens you can capture for money, boss battles, and challenge stages where you can earn prizes for killing enough UFOs. It boils down to shoot (almost) everything while avoiding (almost) everything, and it pulls that off really well. You can whip your tank from one side of the screen to the other with the mouse, yet stop on a dime, and I never felt like I died because of the controls. The graphics are clear and easy to see, especially the glowing bullets, so you don't lose track of objects unless there's several dozen bearing down on you. I can't think of any way to improve this core gameplay, aside from one issue I'll address later.

The upgrade system lets you spend the money you earn killing aliens to buy more shields, more smartbombs, or upgrade your guns. The gun upgrades boil down to "Do you want powerful bullets or more bullets?", but the smartbombs & shields are a money sink for bad play. Your shields don't recharge, so you have to buy replacements whenever you get shot. Furthermore, the more shields you have, the more the next one costs. It's an interesting risk/reward tradeoff: "Do I just keep 2 shields to save money for the big guns, or do I keep 4 or more shields in case I hit a rough stage?" The smartbombs start out cheap, but each replacement you buy costs more. If you go nuts with them early, they may be too expensive to buy during the final stage. The increasing cost of shields & smartbombs rewards good players and encourages bad players to improve their runs on former stages. It definitely has more depth than I expected.

Between the core gameplay and the upgrade system, this should be a great shmup. And it is, for most of the game. However, it begins to fall apart past Lvl. 60. While pros can get around these problems with little difficulty (and have, judging by the Online Leaderboards), these might be gamebreakers for more casual players.

First... the Divebombers. More specifically, the last Divebombers on the level.

Divebombers are aliens that hover in one spot, occasionally dropping exploding bombs or divebombing straight down. Their bombs' explosions last a few seconds, blocking off the player until they dissipate. Not much an issue by themselves. Titan Attacks! also has the enemies speed up as more of them are killed as a callback to Space Invaders. Not an issue by itself, either. However, when combined, the last Divebombers on the level drop bombs faster than the explosions dissipate, resulting in a constant carpetbomb below him while he barely moves horizontally. When that happens, you have 3 choices:

  1. Suck up the damage to blow up the Divebomber, losing your score multiplier and costing you a shield or two.
  2. Use a smartbomb to kill it, which saves your score multiplier but costs even more money.
  3. Wait a minute or two for the Random Number Generator to smile upon you and give you either a gap in the bombings or move the Divebomber to the side just enough to pick him off. You don't lose any Shields or Smartbombs, but it completely breaks the game's quick pacing.

That was, far and away, the most aggravating thing all game, especially when it happened on level after level. I could handle the overwhelming forces, the constant rain of enemy fire, but gritting my teeth while waiting for an opening to kill that last Divebomber...

That wasn't fun. That wasn't fun at all.

Second, the last 20 levels get kind of nuts with how much enemy fire is on the stage. I'm not sure you can get through some of those levels without getting hit, but I suspect it's possible. Still, during that last stage I pumped all my money into Shields and Smartbombs in a desperate attempt to finish the game & I still died on the endboss. It feels like a large jump in difficulty, almost too large.

Still... it wasn't as annoying as those last Divebombers. Accursed Divebombers! If you can deal with those 2 issues and you have a craving for some old-school 2D shmups, buy this game. Just shoot the Divebombers first.

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