App of the Day: Bug Princess 2

Beetle royale.

An angry mass of pink projectiles swarms from the top of the screen, surrounding a small craft near the bottom. Overwhelmed, the player guiding this avatar desperately attempts to manoeuvre between these deadly bullets. Time and again he's hit, a shriek piercing the air with every death.

Cave games are too hard, right? I mean, look at this. How are you supposed to manage that? Ridiculous.

That's conventional wisdom, right there. On the highest level, yes, Cave titles are punishingly hard. Exclusive. Elitist, even. But since when were games judged purely on their uppermost difficulty level? It's like watching a video of Modern Warfare on Veteran and writing it off, or watching Daigo Umehara in action and giving up multiplayer Street Fighter for good.

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The sequel isn't quite so strict with the whole 'bug' thing: you'll shoot turtles, floating jellyfish, a T-rex and a Chinese dragon.

The uncomfortable truth is that Cave's output is more accessible than ever before, particularly on iOS. That mightn't sit well with some shmup purists, nor will the revelation that touch-screen controls might even be the best way to play these games.

I'm far from the first to say this, but it bears repeating: Cave's use of touch-screen controls is absolutely masterful. Rather than obscuring the display with your digits, you use the bottom of the screen like a trackpad.

It's perfectly calibrated to give you the precision you need to weave between the endless waves of cascading bullets. It picks up the tiniest shifts of finger position, allowing you to jink through the narrowest of gaps, while less subtle movements give you the opportunity to quickly dash out of harm's way in an emergency. It would be easy to make the controls too skittish, too volatile. But you always feel in complete control.

Outside the wonderfully nuanced controls there are multiple difficulty settings to accommodate less experienced players. If I can complete Normal mode, I'm sure most people reading this could, too, but there's even a Novice option below that, and, if you stick at it, the game will give you more continues to play with.

Elsewhere, Cave streamlines some of the first game's systems. Rather than changing shot types by collecting floating power-ups, you instead choose from two different options before the start: Normal shoots true but is weak, while Abnormal is more wayward, but offers additional power.

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It's wise not to waste your bombs as they're automatically triggered when you're hit, giving you another chance to die ingloriously on the final boss.

Instead of setting a formation during play, you switch between a blue Shot and green Laser. You're supposed to do it when the colour of your combo tally changes, boosting your score, but I haven't quite figured out the best way to do it without removing my index finger from the screen, and on anything above Novice you've rarely got a second's respite from the barrage of bullets to do so.

How I'm in the top third of players, then, I'll never know. But that goes to show that there are some people who are pretty bad at Bug Princess 2 but are still happy to play it. I think part of the reason for that is because knowing that a game is really hard takes the pressure off. You know you're not supposed to reach the end on your first, your second, your fifteenth attempt, so you're happy to simply go with it.

It'd be impossible to deny the game's intensity, but equally I often feel bizarrely calm when playing it. Perhaps it's because your actions are never as frantic as what's on screen; your finger is often moving within a space no larger than a £2 coin.

Mastery will be a long time coming, if it comes at all. But it doesn't matter; Bug Princess 2 offers plenty of insect-blasting fun whether you're a shmup veteran or a total novice. You might think it's too hard. You might think it's not for you. But I'd urge you to give Cave the opportunity to prove you wrong.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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