JoyJoy comes from Radiangames, maker of the similarly fantastic Bombcats Special Edition. Radian originally published this one as an Xbox Live Indie Game on the Xbox 360 way back in 2010. Now a whole new audience can experience JoyJoy's simple shoot 'em up bliss along with an array of improvements and tweaks for mobile play. Fans of the genre won't want to miss it.
JoyJoy is an arena-based twin-stick shooter, not unlike console favorite Geometry Wars. This one consists of two game modes: Waves and Challenges. Waves is basically the campaign (though there is no story at all), consisting of 24 levels to blast through.
In both game modes, players can choose between five difficulties to start with. Beat Waves and you'll unlock two seriously tough bonus difficulties: Lightning and Armored. I find that the easiest difficulty "Relaxed" is the most appropriate for mobile play. You might still die every now and then, but the game never requires more precision than the controls can deliver. Challenge fiends will want to stick with Normal or above, though.
The game takes place within a colorful rectangular arena, with enemies spawning throughout the enclosure. Your goal is always the same – to blast everything that moves. Kill all of the enemies in a wave and the game will congratulate you with some positive message like "Spectacular!" or "Impressive" and then it's on to the next wave.
Every four waves you'll encounter a special wave. If it's a Swarm wave, an extra-large mass of enemies will spawn and try to overwhelm your ship. Boss waves on the other hand feature a single gigantic boss, possibly aided by a few smaller fighters. The background music doesn't change for special waves, undercutting their intensity a bit, but they're still a lot of fun.
Dying isn't the end of the world in JoyJoy. You get several lives to start with, and they refill when you reach a new wave. Certain items will increase the life limit too. If you do run out of ships, you can choose to continue on the same wave during that session. Come back later and you can start on any post-special wave level that you've reached before.
Challenge mode consists of a series of timed challenges, each lasting four minutes or until the player runs out of lives. Initially only two challenges are available: Swarmer Light and Shooter Light. Complete Waves mode and you'll unlock the remaining four challenges, including Variety Hour and Boss Rush. The latter alternates between Swarm waves and the game's three bosses. Can you kill them all before time runs out?
The main Challenges screen shows the number of attempts and how long the player survived in each of the challenges. I did run into a bug in which my times all showed up as zero, right after completing Boss Rush mode. The game even forgot which levels I had unlocked the next time I booted it up. Huge drag, but hopefully Radiangames will fix both problems in a future update.
Game mechanics and controls
It's hard to imagine a mobile game with better twin-stick controls than this one. Just put your fingers within the well-placed white circles and aim away; the left side controls movement while the right side directs the ship's fire. Let go of the virtual stick on the right and the ship will autofire on its own. But you'll scarcely want to go hands-off since the ship's movement and firing are extremely responsive.
In fact, JoyJoy really puts the Windows Phone version of Halo: Spartan Assault to shame. One guy working on his own churned out way more responsive controls than an entire team of developers – who'd have thought?
Next to the right stick is a button for switching weapons. JoyJoy gives players six weapons to choose from, although in my experience you're better off sticking with the homing shot (which fires little sperm-looking bullets) and spread shot. Thinner weapons will just get your swarmed. I wish we could toggle specifically between our favorite weapons instead of cycling through all six choices, but at least the game shows the lineup and currently selected gun at the top of the screen.
Ultra and power-ups
Downed enemies drop little stars. These aren't just sparkly things to collect; they charge up the ship's Ultra weapon. The Ultra is a new addition to the phone game, replacing a charged shot mechanic from the console version. By holding the button located next to the left stick, your ship will stay in place and fire a powerful stream of fire until the Ultra meter depletes. Not necessary during normal waves since it takes away your mobility, but it certainly helps a bunch against bosses.
A variety of power-ups spawn intermittently throughout both game modes. Some of their effects include boosts for specific weapons, extra lives, and speed boosts. My favorite power-up is the Vortex item. Grab it and a vortex will spawn in its place, sucking all regular enemies into one convenient location.
Options and features
JoyJoy includes a few cool options to tailor the game to your phone and play style, including stick sensitivity adjustments and flipped controls. You can also reposition the virtual sticks and buttons anywhere on-screen that you like, although the default positions are perfect on my Nokia Lumia 1520.
For phones that aren't quite as beefy as the Lumia 1520, the game even offers a few graphical settings. Turn down the textures and particles if they cause your phone to chug. As for the 1520, it runs everything maxed at a silky smooth 60 frames per second.
The game includes some non-Xbox Achievements, but their implementation is worse than you'd expect. Instead of popping up when you earn them mid-game, they just show up on the Achievements menu. It's really just a stats screen, with records of how many enemies, items, and stages you've gone through. Not a bad feature, but the excitement of seeing an Achievement pop isn't there.
One big missing feature is leaderboards. The store falsely claims that the game has them, but there isn't even a local high score board, much less an online one. You can see your highest score for individual waves and challenges, but that's not a leaderboard.
Games like this benefit greatly from online leaderboards since they encourage competition with other players. I don't think leaderboards are all that hard to implement, especially with middleware solutions like Scoreloop available to developers. Perhaps in a future update…
Despite a few bugs and the absence of leaderboards, JoyJoy is one of the best twin-stick shooters to grace Windows Phone. The visuals are clean and colorful (with lots of great particle effects), and together with the peppy music they work perfectly with the game's joyful vibe. The controls are great and the game is super fun to play over all.
Although Radiangames does not offer a trial version, JoyJoy is a really safe purchase for twin-stick shooter fans. I really hope the developer brings this to Xbox One as well, especially since indie games are far more visible on the One than they were on the 360. But for now, it's a blast to play on the go.
- JoyJoy – Windows Phone 8 – 45 MB – $1.99 – Store Link