Sunday, January 17, 2010

Irukandji Review

Irukandji, developed and published by Charlie's Games.
The Good: Chaotic, six distinctive ships with varied attributes and strategies, fitting musical score, cheap flexible pricing, multiplatform, online scoreboards, a giant crab
The Not So Good: Only one level, repetitive, lacks difficulty settings, no mouse control, no multiplayer
What say you? A tough, repetitive arcade shooter that can be inexpensive disorderly fun: 5/8

After devoting hours to strategically enter a personal union with the Principality of Achaea, sometimes it's nice to play a less complicated game. You know, one where you shoot first and never ask questions, all in a neon-bright space setting. Hey, look, it's Irukandji (a type of jellyfish), the latest arcade shooter from Charlie's Games, most known for producing games where you shoot erect, ejaculating penises. Nice! This time around, you fighting in an underwater setting, hoping to best a giant crab, in this score-based shooter. How does it stack up against similar competition?

Irukandji uses the minimalist glow effect that’s mighty popular in recent arcade games. The game takes place underwater, but you could easily replace this setting with space or a cavern and not really notice any difference in the visuals. Irukandji uses procedurally generated enemies, probably to cut down on file size, that look nice but become repetitive upon successive plays (which will be a common occurrence, since the game consists only of a single level) because they are not randomly generated. The game does do a fine job putting a lot of stuff on-screen at once, and it’s not terribly difficult to see enemy fire in order to dodge it during the most frantic moments. The game is displayed in a lower resolution but can be windowed if so you choose (and I did). The effects are pretty typical for a frantic shooter, but still have a nice chaotic quality to them. I like the music as it fits the game well, and the sound effects do their job. I especially appreciate the semi-orgasmic “yes!” when you collect something. In all, Irukandji features acceptable graphics and sound for a cheap, indie arcade shooter.

Irukandji has you fighting off a series of underwater creatures on your way to taking down a giant crab. There is only one level in the entire game, and it takes about three minutes to complete the whole thing, assuming you defeat the crab (which is admittedly difficult to do). I do think it’s funny that the only level in the game is titled “Level 1,” since there isn’t a “Level 2.” There are six different ships with varied weapons and attributes that are unlocked when you beat the game with the previous ship; this is the major motivation to keep playing. There is also an online high-score table so that you can see how inept you are at the game, providing some additional incentive. This somewhat compensates for the lack of multiplayer, something you’d think would be standard in any arcade shooter. Lastly, there are achievements unlocked along the way, but they do not provide any in-game bonuses. Irukandji is available on all three major computer platforms (Windows, Linux, Macintosh) and you can name your own price when purchasing the game, which is a good benefit for a game with a small amount of content such as this.

The primary goal in the game is to destroy as much as possible and score a large number of points by killing everything and not dying, preserving your multiplier. The six ships do actually provide dissimilar strategies, as they shoot in varied fashions (straight, angled, sideways) in different ways (missiles, lasers) at different speeds. You’re always shooting things, but the overall strategy on which enemies to attack and when to use your special weapon does change a bit when you use a different ship. Controls are simple, using a gamepad or the keyboard to shoot left, shoot right, shoot straight, or deploy the special weapon; the exact controls depend on which ship you are using, but they are generally the same. Irukandji lacks mouse control, though, limited your input somewhat. Each ship has a special weapon that destroys a bunch of enemies at once; it has a rechargeable meter (filled by killing stuff) to prevent overuse.

In order to get the elusive high scores, you will need to collect power-ups and later multipliers. Power-ups send more bullets into the abyss, and once you are fully powered-up, they convert into multipliers that increase your score significantly. When you lose a life by running into an enemy or their bullets, you lose your multipliers and some power, which definitely sets you back in the score department. You are limited in the amount of lives you are given and there is also a time limit (no idea why, since you can’t really slow down the pace much yourself), adding to the difficulty. Irukandji is a tough game: there are a lot of enemies and a lot of bullets coming at you. It is commonly impossible to avoid everything, causing you to lose lives on a regular basis. It definitely requires skill to avoid the plentiful enemy fire, and using your particular ship’s advantages is a must. Irukandji is clearly a game designed for arcade shooter veterans, as the difficulty level cannot be adjusted and the one-note gameplay becomes quite repetitive if you are not unlocking additional ships or competitive on the high score list. Still, the freedom to pay whatever you want for the game means you only need to invest a couple of bucks, which I feel is a fair price for what you get.

Irukandji has a couple of things going for it and a couple of things going against it. I definitely like the ship variety, each of which gives you a slightly different approach to dealing with all of those pesky enemies due to their strengths and limitations. The game also has good music, availability on all major operating systems, online scoreboards, and a flexible pricing scheme, offset by a lack of mouse controls and no direct competitive multiplayer action. What Irukandji clearly does not have, however, is variety: you play the same level over and over again, with a predictable roster of enemies coming in the same order each and every time. The different ships do mean you'll play somewhat differently, though, but even this motivation wears out its welcome after a while. You are playing Irukandji in order to get on that high score table, so if you find that appealing and a possibility, you'll like the game. Irukandji is probably a good $3-$5 worth of fun, and since you can name your own price, those interested in the genre will probably invest at least some time with it. Ultimately, only those people who like arcade shooters will find Irukandji attractive: it is a one-note game, although that note can be quite addictive as you chase the high scores.