When I pick up a twin-stick shooter, I’m usually pleased if the controls are tight, the presentation attractive, and it’s got at least a minor new trick up its sleeve. “Smatter” (which, BTW, appears to have the semi-official subtitle of “Honour Runs”, but it doesn’t appear that way on the Dashboard) exceeded my expectations by have several, and at least one of them quite ingenious.
One thing I’m a fan of is “fog of war”. “Advance Wars” comes to mind when thinking of a game that uses this technique effectively. Fog of war in a game typically means that the game only shows you a limited view of your surroundings (perhaps a certain distance in each direction, or just what’s in front of you). “Smatter” is all about fog of war, with the game illuminating the playfield only a certain distance in each direction, forcing you to explore the level the hard way. That’s where it get’s interesting: it opens up different ways to play.
Gunvalkyrie was a title early in the original Xbox’s life, and I played it wrong. I played it as a plodding affair, slowly exploring my surroundings, trying to kill every single enemy on every single map, and leaving no nook unseen. Then one day I left the game after loading it up, and came back later to the game having put on a gameplay video of someone attacking a level like their life depended on it. I realised then why I had not been entirely happy with the controls, as they had been specifically adapted to someone boosting through the level with reckless abandon, not slowly plodding their way through it. Perhaps if the levels’d had time limits, I would have figured this out sooner (as I would have got about 1% into the levels before time ran out, the way it was meant to be played).
In fact, let’s show you the difference, thanks to the magic of online video. Here’s how the game was meant to be played, with you doing acrobatic flips and engaging boost thrusters as you do:
I’ve seen videos that made even this official trailer seem slow.
Now here’s something more along the lines of how *I* played it:
Now you probably stopped the video before it even finished, am I right?
What does all of this have to do with “Smatter”? I’m glad you asked. Whereas with Gunvalkyrie I was playing it wrong, the developer behind “Smatter” was smart enough to have an intelligent scoring system that, in different ways, rewarded *both* styles of play. And that’s a good thing, as “Smatter” appeals to both types of players (or, if you like both styles, you can play it both ways to boost the game’s replay value). If you like to do “right-hand rule” and make sure you never miss even the smallest section of the maze, then this game rewards you with lots of cool areas to discover. If you can’t wait to memorise the basic level layout so that you can blast through it on speedruns, then the scoring system has something for you too. Now *that’s* cool. That alone is worth 80 Microsoft Points. The fact that the game looks good, controls well, has all sorts of levels, weapons, global leaderboards, etc., is all icing on the cake. Seriously, download this thing now.
As an aside I discovered a co-worker of mine has never played a twin-stick shooter. Understand that he’s in his ’30s, has been gaming since he was a kid, worked for EB Games for several years, etc. We were talking about the recent release of Halo: Spartan Assault for Windows Phone and Windows 8, and he didn’t know what the rest of us were talking about when it came to the control scheme. Have you not played Robotron 2084, we asked? No, came the answer. Geometry Wars? Smash TV? “I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1”? No to all of the above. I’m thinking about staging an intervention.
Here’s what the developer (no3y3h4nd) has to say about the game:
“Tactical, twinstick dungeon cleansing! Blast through 13 increasingly challenging levels of smatter infested dungeon. Unique weapon charging and scoring system rewards aggressive play and tactical thinking. 5 different fire modes. Compete online with global score boards. Replay previously qualified levels in any order to improve your online score!”