Espgaluda II

Caving in.

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.

I count about 50-odd projectiles on screen; utterly tame by Espgaluda's standards.

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.

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Mark Brown

Mark Brown



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