Review: espressoSoft Star Smasher
On August 5, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: Games to Show Off Apple's Devices, a feature article looking at six games that interestingly showed off the iPhone OS. Today, we are rating these games in separate reviews. This review focuses on espressoSoft's Star Smasher ($3); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
We’ve been following Star Smasher for a little while, and perhaps with a little too much anticipation. We’re huge fans of Nintendo’s classic Star Fox, one of two arcade-style games that helped to introduce audiences to the idea of polygonal 3-D space shooters. Someone at Apple clearly liked the game too, as it used a Star Fox-like demo called Touch Fighter as an early demonstration of the iPhone’s 3-D capabilities; we hoped that it would be transformed into a real game in time for the App Store’s release.
Star Smasher is, as its creator has explained, an ode to Star Fox. You’re placed in command of a spaceship that is viewed from the back as it flies into the screen, avoiding asteroid, space ship, and mine-like obstacles, shooting and dodging while power-ups appear. Hit too many obstacles and your ship’s shields run down, leaving you open to instant death. Shoot enough obstacles and you’ll rack up points.
Perhaps our expectations were too high for Star Smasher, but the reality of the game is that it’s little more—for now, at least—than the Touch Fighter demo Apple showed months ago. The screen is packed with rocks, which in addition to occasional enemy space ships and the depth charge-styled explosives they lay on the screen, constitute the entirety of what you’re trying to shoot or avoid. Tapping the screen fires your lasers. If you’re lucky enough to grab a power up, which is always a challenge, your lasers change from green to blue. You just keep shooting, flying through rocks, and racking up points. That’s it—it doesn’t seem like there’s a destination, more to the mission, or even a map of places to go. The developer is apparently working on these sorts of things. Consequently, this is a good engine, but not yet a good game.
Every time espressoSoft releases another point update, we keep checking again to see if a real game has been added, but thus far, it hasn’t. After its third point update (1.0.3), Star Smasher still doesn’t feel anything more like a complete space adventure, but it has seen its controls improved through an accelerometer-centering menu, and there are now three difficulty levels, and new background graphics for the introduction and settings screens—the sort of stuff most paid games include on their first release, rather than their third or fourth. Hopefully, the developer will work to put enough stages into this that we’d feel comfortable recommending it to our readers as more than just a demo of what the iPhone can do with a space-themed shooting game. We really don’t like the “pay now, maybe get a finished game later” model, so our strong advice is to hold off on making an App Store purchase until the game is clearly in finished form.