Review: Hassey Enterprises Galcon
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 Hassey Enterprises' Galcon ($10); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
In our original coverage of Galcon, we noted that the game felt like a demo—but a really cool demo. Our views have evolved somewhat over the past week as we’ve continued to play this novel sci-fi strategy game, and though we’re still not completely thrilled by the price point, its lack of structure, or its lack of music, we have to say that this is otherwise one of the most interesting iPhone titles we’ve played.
In its most basic mode, Galcon presents you with a screen containing a collection of planets, one green and controlled by you, one in another color such as orange that’s controlled by a computerized opponent. Simply explained, you’re trying to conquer the on-screen galaxy by preventing your opponent from occupying even one home planet—the minute you succeed in wiping out all the orange or other opponent-colored planets on the screen, you win. Other modes permit you to play against two computer opponents at once, against an invisible computer opponent, or against the clock as you race to conquer all the on-screen planets yourself. These modes definitely make Galcon more exciting and challenging.
Succeeding is a matter of moving quickly. You touch your first green planet and point to another planet, gray or orange. The number on each planet says either how many spaceships are on it, or how many it will take to conquer. Point 50 of your ships at a 25-unit gray planet and you conquer it, achieving a new base from which to launch ships at the opponent’s planet. Act fast and your opponent will only need to be removed from one or two planets; wait too long and you’ll need to fight it out across the entire array of formerly gray moons. From level to level, the presentation is highly similar—the developer could, and should, create deeper and more varied background art, as well as sound effects that don’t sound like someone mouthing noises—but if you really get into the action, you mightn’t care that much.
Where Galcon goes right is in offering 10 levels of difficulty and a total of five play modes to choose from; as we continued to test the game, we realized that although the action is straightforward, moving from similar stage to similar stage, all it takes is turning up the difficulty to a level that’s challenging to your personal skill set and suddenly you won’t be winning so often. However, the game goes wrong in that it doesn’t offer any fully managed single-player experience on its own—or networked play. A campaign mode that alternated between the five play modes, giving you levels of increasing difficulty spread across various types of missions, would be ideal to challenge a player for days or weeks. As-is, Galcon basically dumps you into what feel like repetitive individual types of gameplay, at one skill level that can be rapidly mastered and tired of. Structure and multiplayer competitive modes could make this game an A title.
In any case, as a demonstration of how the touchscreen can enable strategic gameplay, this is a powerful little game. Something about its simplicity leaves room for the imagination to run wild; we found ourselves picturing Galcon as the template for an even more sophisticated galactic war game with oversized touchscreens, sort of like Domination, the video game played in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again. Though unstructured and in need of deeper backgrounds and real audio given its current $10 price tag—the amount being charged by major game companies for highly sophisticated titles—Galcon is one of the most memorable touchscreen-based iPhone games we’ve yet played. If you like sci-fi strategy, and don’t mind creating your own challenges by tweaking difficulty levels and stages, it’s worth checking out even in its current form.