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Big Bang Mini

Score: 93%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Southpeak Interactive
Developer: Arkedo
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Arcade/ Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

What makes a game casual? What makes a game hardcore? These are some of the questions that have lately been circulating throughout the ever-evolving gaming community. Southpeak Interactive and Arkedo answer these questions by asking a better one: if the game is fun, then who cares? Big Bang Mini is the vehicle for this argument and everyone should hop on. This budget-priced arcade-style shooter blends several elements from games both classic and recent, and the results are fantastic. It's a delightfully quirky and satisfying title that DS owners of all sorts should play.

Big Bang Mini's visual design is insane. Mind you, that's totally to the game's credit. The background of each of the nine worlds may pan infinitely (like several scenes from "The Flintstones"), but they effectively convey the flavor of the current world you are traversing. It's the enemy design that really shines. The enemies sport some of the most hysterically awesome character designs I've seen in a game since Psychonauts. For example, one world pits you against a number of masked superheroes who attack you with fragments of comic book onomatopoeia, and another has you fighting against a squad of parachuting, toque-wearing Parisian turtles. When I say the character design is hysterically awesome, I mean it.

The sound design is also top-notch; while the music consists of little more than a series of forty-second loops, each of these loops is perfectly and uniquely themed - they keep things from getting stale. Fireworks don't always sound like they should, but the developer has a very good reason for this - I'll explain in the following paragraph.

It is worth noting that the game's presentation undergoes a total overhaul every ten levels (simply put, the game's art and sound design go through drastic changes to appropriately fit each world). Fireworks, enemies, music, sound effects - nearly everything changes. Long story short, the game always looks and sounds awesome.


Gameplay:

When it comes to the gameplay, Big Bang Mini is an unholy mishmash of tried-and-true mechanics; for example, the rhythmic patterns of Galaga, the hectic pacing of Geometry Wars, and the precision-based maneuvering of Ikaruga. If this sounds ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination, I've done my job correctly.

Watching Big Bang Mini in action makes the core gameplay look unbelievably complicated, but it's a deceptive facade that hides its undeniable pick-up-and-play appeal. You, as an observer, ride a train through the game's nine worlds. You directly control... something. This user-controlled avatar metamorphosizes (along with everything else) as you progress through the nine worlds, but it always settles into the form of some weird shape. As you ride the unseen rails, the sky fills with legions of seriously weird enemies who just want to blow up the innocent little whatever-it-is. Your job? Shoot fireworks into the sky, blow them up, and collect the spoils of victory. Every kill yields a falling star, which you must actively collect in order to fill a meter. When the meter is filled, you move on to the next area. None of this is as easy as it sounds. There's a risk involved; you must take your shots in between navigating the little sprite away from enemy fire. In addition to this, every shot that misses its target explodes into a shower of deadly debris, which you must dodge in addition to whatever the enemies are throwing at you.

Upon the completion of each level (excluding boss fights), you are given a chance to complete a bonus level. These levels are standard sequence-based connect-the-dot puzzles that throw different types of challenges at you, depending on what world you're in. In the Aurora world, you must tap blocks of ice to reveal the order of how you must connect the dots. In New York, you are left to wander a timed minefield - almost completely in the dark, save for about a centimeter of illumination to help orient you. Completing these crazy puzzles rewards you by revealing a constellation.

Every world ends in a four-phase boss fight. Every boss has special attack and defense patterns, and some of these will require a few tries to figure out. When you finally destroy them, you feel like the most dextrous person on the planet... until you get to the next boss fight.


Difficulty:

The difficulty curve in Big Bang Mini is close to perfect, and it can be scaled in a matter of minutes. The game gets progressively more difficult as you get further in the Arcade Mode. That being said, Big Bang Mini is easy to work through, but very difficult to complete. The final world in particular is tough as nails, but it never feels impossible. It can get quite frustrating towards the end, but if you're persistent and patient enough, you'll eventually triumph.

Mission Mode is unlocked by completing Arcade Mode, and it is arguably the most difficult part of the entire package. You take on missions from Arcade Mode, but you must satisfy special requirements to pass the level. These requirements are often ridiculous, but since Arcade Mode is the meat of the experience, it's unfair to dock the overall package based on what should be considered bonus content.

If there's any problem with the difficulty level, it has to do with the game's refusal to accept anything other than utter precision. Sometimes, when the screen is filled with absolute mayhem, you may need to move your avatar out of the way - very quickly. If you so much as miss the "character" by a half-centimeter, the game will likely interpret your motion as a signal to fire off a shot or activate a special weapon. However, it is usually the case that if you get into trouble, it's your own fault.

Compared to most retail releases, Big Bang Mini's Arcade Mode is short, but given the game's $20 price tag and the number of unlockables, this is not a problem.


Game Mechanics:

Big Bang Mini's control scheme is nearly flawless. Flicking the stylus across the screen in different directions will send fireworks screaming upwards at whatever angle you flick. To move your "character," you hold the stylus down on it and drag it across the screen. There are a number of different actions for special abilities, and they all feel just right.

Perhaps what is most interesting about Big Bang Mini's gameplay is how it evolves over the course of its 90-mission Arcade Mode. Through the implementation of game-changing power-ups (some permanent, others limited to the world you are currently in), and unique tweaks to an already superb formula, the game manages to keep its relatively simple gameplay remarkably fresh. For example, the Rio de Janeiro world finds a way to work its spicy, festive theme into the gameplay; shooting fireworks off on the upbeat of a catchy rhythm earns you a damage bonus. Blowing up enemies in the Savannah will cause them to emit intense beams of light which you must traverse quickly, lest you be vaporized.

There are a number of extras in Big Bang Mini. They can be unlocked by progressing through the Arcade Mode. These extras include: a Galaga-like Challenge Mode, the aforementioned Mission Mode, Relax Mode (where you can fire to your heart's content without worrying about your character exploding), and a decent multiplayer mode. Only one card is required to partake in multiplayer, which is a definite plus. All told, Big Bang Mini is overflowing with quality content; at $20, it is a total steal.

The killer presentation and addictive challenge of Big Bang Mini is worth a purchase, and it offers what I think is the best deal in gaming since Valve's The Orange Box. No DS owner should miss this one.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Sony PlayStation 3 Lord of the Rings: Conquest Sony PlayStation 3 Flower

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated