Version tested: iPhone
If you're unaccustomed to the turbulent world of PC upgrades, the idea of your system not being man enough to run a game is probably entirely foreign to you. Outside of the N64's fateful Expansion Pak, consoles are generally designed to run every game released.
But the iPhone and iPod Touch aren't consoles, and they aren't built with the same sensibilities. Unlike a dedicated handheld console, hardware updates for Apple's fleet of devices aren't bothered with backwards parity and legacy support. The thought process that left a second analogue stick off the PSP Go isn't really present here.
This is the case with Espgaluda II, a handheld port of Cave's Xbox 360 and arcade shooter. It requires the latest, most fancy iDevices, the ones packed to bursting with memory and Open GLs and other things I don't understand. Try and load the app on a dated device and the game doesn't splutter and cough and screech to a halt before freezing and crashing to the iPhone's dashboard - it just won't run.
Arguably, that represents an undying dedication to their craft from the developers at Cave: baring off millions of potential customers to make sure the end product plays exactly as they imagined and designed it. As a reviewer, it's a touch distressing - my anaemic 8GB iPod couldn't hack it, forcing me to borrow an iPhone 3GS for a few days - but as a gamer, I can respect it.
Load the game for the first time and you'll immediately see why a low-powered device would baulk at the idea of pushing so many pixels. Even a top-of-the-line iPhone doesn't seem cut out for the workload; the game moves with a gorgeous, buttery smoothness, but your battery will peg out and expire after a few hours of play.
Espgaluda II comes in bullet-hell flavour, an ancestual spin-off of the coin-op shooter that isn't so much about firing those bullets as it is about expertly dodging screens full of them. You're weaving in and out of waves of them, sprawling tendrils of them, and concentrated walls of them. It's like BBC 1's Hole in the Wall, in fast forward, and on acid.
But before you break down in a fit of hysterics at the very thought of controlling something in the same family as Ikaruga or DoDonPachi without a perfectly-crafted arcade stick, you should give this one a chance. Sliding your thumb across the screen, anywhere across the screen, moves your ship with the same fluidity and grace as those wiggling app icons on your iPhone's desktop. Perhaps more so; layers of abstraction just fall away as your ship reacts instantly to every swipe, jab or nano-metric nudge.
It works both in swooping from one side of the screen to the other, and in tiny, precise dodges of individual gunfire. As the only concession to the mobile form, the game will fire your ludicrously overpowered and ostentatiously pyrotechnic weapons automatically, so you can concentrate on dodging bullets instead of repetitively poking your expensive rectangle.
There is an endless selection of different control layouts, screen sizes and button placements, ranging from auto-guard and weapon-switch hand-holding to a tower of buttons splashed along the side of the screen. Espgaluda II also offers up three difficulty modes and unlimited continues, so it's suitable both for the bullet hell aficionado and the complete greenhorn.
Get down to the deep and swampy minutiae - the sort of high-level stuff that makes the difference between simply clearing the stages and earning the multi-million soaring scores - and Espgaluda II boasts some unique offerings.
In Awakening Mode, the game features an interesting risk/reward system for racking up high scores. Tapping this button puts you in a stasis, meaning you can't move or shoot, but upon returning all on-screen bullets will turn to score-boosting gold coins. Plus, the longer you hang out in Awakening Mode, the more your combo meter will rocket up, making those collected coins even more valuable.
It's both a method of last resort, as you can quickly negate all the on-screen bullets with a couple taps of the button, but also a devilishly useful way to jack up your high score if you're brave enough to leave yourself vulnerable.
It also shows the difference between the game's 'iPhone' and 'Arcade' modes, which you'd barely be able to tell apart if no one informed you. In iPhone mode, you can tap on the screen during your Awakening deadlock to send out mini-shockwaves, turning bullets into useful gems. Other than that, the two modes are extremely similar, bar a slightly tweaked scoring system.
Those scores are saved on your iPhone, and also shared with like-minded bullet hell junkies through OpenFeint, the Xbox Live-style achievement and leaderboard stop-over until Apple rolls out its Game Center. There are achievements on offer too, but much of the fun is trying to top your own scores, or beating the game with no continues.
Espgaluda II loses next to nothing in the transition to iPhone. Not in speed, nor controllability, nor graphics. Beautiful, delicately designed pixel art graphics they are, with peaceful little backdrops that are so incongruous to the mayhem layered on top. And then there's the music that'll give you a neon heart attack... and the little girls' shrieking voices.
Did I mention your spaceship is actually a prepubescent little girl who lets out a shrill squeal when hit? No? Never mind then. You can turn that voice sample off, thankfully.
It's really refreshing to see a game on a handheld system that's not burdened by the portable form factor. Despite being downsized from a six-foot arcade cabinet to a credit-card-sized wonder gadget, Espgaluda II doesn't come with any caveats through losing content or having to forcibly alter its design to fit the specification.
Through Cave's uncompromising vision, Espgaluda II manages to squeeze one of the most frenetic, frenzied and thoroughly enjoyable shooters onto iPhone without sacrifice. That should, without hesitation, be fervently embraced.
9 / 10
Espgaluda II is available now from the App Store for £5.49 / €6.99 / $8.99. It will run on the iPad, the iPhone 3GS and third-generation 32GB or 64GB iPod Touch devices.