Review: Pangea Software Billy Frontier
The Wild West is a natural setting for exciting games, and Billy Frontier ($6) by Pangea has a B-movie twist on that theme: what if the cowboy hero, Billy Frontier, was also fighting aliens? That would be interesting, right?
Not so much. Like Cro-Mag Rally before it, Billy Frontier is an example of a game with a good 3-D engine and some ugly characters, here a bunch of out-of-place green aliens, orange bulls, and other oddities that take away from what is otherwise a decent “four games in one” title. There are two types of 3-D shooting scenes, which are like Konami’s classic Lethal Enforcers first-person shooting games except that your bullets and aim seem to be really poor, even after you turn off the game’s default “don’t shoot where I touch” controls. Then there are three-person duel scenes, where you either properly input a series of triangle-circle commands with on-screen buttons or get shot in a triangular showdown with two aliens. And finally, there are “stampede” scenes where you race down a path, avoiding a stampede of alien bulls. There are two scenes per type of mini-game, one set in a swamp, and the other in an old West town.
Simply put, Billy Frontier isn’t much fun. The first-person town and swamp shootouts lack for the excitement found in pretty much any of the first-person gun games that were once popular in arcades; they’re interesting only in that you can sometimes press a button to move forward or rotate around in the level, and break boxes to find more ammo. Duels are straightforward and boring: either enter all of the button presses correctly or die. And the stampedes, which use the accelerometer for movement of Billy, are only vaguely fun—you can collect coins as you run towards the screen, and chili peppers to speed him up. It’s not tough to outrun the bulls, or to beat the various levels.
The game’s most exciting mode? Target practice, where you shoot at a variety of character and object models that are tossed onto the screen at random, with the screen occasionally shaking to throw off your aim. The sheer number of targets gives you a lot to shoot at, which is cool. Unfortunately, as with the other shooting mode, bullets don’t reliably hit the targets you fire at; there’s also no real background art here to speak of. This is one of several things that give Billy Frontier a “tech demo” feeling, counterbalanced only by the presence of good music and the sheer quantity of art.
As Billy Frontier is a port of a 2003 Macintosh game, we’re hopeful that it marks the beginning of an effort to bring more 3-D titles from computers and game consoles to the iPhone OS—clearly, the iPod touch and iPhones are capable of handling impressive visuals and sound effects. That said, we also hope that companies start with better source materials, as this one is a pretty mediocre collection of games that are only decent when you consider their cumulative price. It’s obvious from Cro-Mag Rally and now Billy Frontier that Pangea knows what it’s doing in the graphics engine coding department; now it just needs the art and the gameplay to match its technical prowess.