Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: BulletAsylum
Does anybody remember the 1980 arcade game Missile Command? It was quite a hit back at the dawn of the vidja game phenomenon, though we haven’t seen too many modern sequels beyond the updated XBLA and iPhone versions. Indie developer UberGeekGames (one word) certainly seems familiar with Missile Command, and the tiny team has created a modern tribute in the form of BulletAsylum (also one word). Microsoft considers this a ‘Must Have Game,’ but sadly you won’t find much depth beneath its flashy exterior.
The sky is falling
Aliens are attacking the earth and it’s up to you to save it. Perhaps an unusual scenario in real life, but for the average gamer it’s just Tuesday. BulletAsylum takes place on a static screen with enemies approaching from the top and sides. Players must keep them at bay by controlling one or more turrets at the bottom of the screen. If an enemy touches a tower, it gets destroyed. Once you run out of turrets, the game ends.
In Arcade (the main game mode), you start with a couple of Light Guns and gain more towers as you go along. These include:
- Light guns: Rapid fire blue lasers, and the cornerstone of any defense.
- Heavy guns: Slow to fire yellow cannons. Their huge shots pack a big punch.
- Lasers: These fire even slower than heavy guns, but their long, continuous shots can hit multiple enemies at once.
- Defensive cities: Green shield generators that protect nearby towers.
- Overdrive: This isn’t a turret, but I’m sticking it here anyway. I can do that! Anyway, the Overdrive meter fills as you blast enemies. Once it’s full, swiping upward with three fingers unleashes a blast that destroys all regular enemies on-screen.
Point and shoot
You can play BulletAsylum with either one finger or two. A single finger focuses all of your turrets’ fire into a single crosshair, while two fingers creates two crosshairs and splits up the turret fire accordingly. In general, one finger does the job. In fact, once the player acquires a decent number of turrets (how long that takes varies by mode), he or she doesn’t need to move the crosshair at all. Park it right in the center of the screen and the guns will kill just about every regular enemy. You can also play by waving a finger back and forth like crazy – either method will get you extremely far into the game.
That’s BulletAsylum’s biggest problem – it’s too easy to do well and requires virtually no skill. Sure, there’s a combo system that rewards hitting consecutive enemies of the same type. But you hardly ever have the choice not to fire at enemies, so combos are mostly out of the player’s hands and have very little impact on overall score.
Upgrades and Modifiers
BulletAsylum’s upgrade system fares better than its combo system. After each game, you’ll earn credits that can be spent on upgrades. You can upgrade each of the aforementioned turrets several times, permanently increasing their firepower and firing rate in Arcade and Survival modes. Upgraded shields get larger and can take more hits, while Overdrive charges up faster.
Upgrades make the game easier the more you play, but eventually you’ll have unlocked them all. That’s where Modifiers come in. These cost a lot more to unlock and can significantly alter the way the game works, speeding it up, slowing it down, and more. Visual modifiers include a silly-frilly Peace mode, the insanely-flashing Inmate mode, and more. The 8-Bit mode could have been really cool, swapping out vector graphics for pixel art. Instead, it’s just a terrible-looking pixilation filter.
A mix of modes
BulletAsylum has three game modes:
- Arcade Mode: The meat of the game. Progress through 30 waves of enemies, gaining new turrets between each wave. After that comes Wave X, an endless wave that bombards players with crazy numbers of enemies.
- Survival Mode: Start on Wave X with the maximum number of towers and see how long you can last. Curiously, Survival Mode has no Achievements of its own. Still, it’s the best way of earning credits in a hurry.
- Architect Mode: This more strategic mode smacks of wasted potential. Here you have to purchase towers with points rather than getting them for free. For some reason the difficulty is cranked super high, making it tough to play this mode for fun. There seems to be only one winning strategy – turn on some modifiers to make things easier and then build turrets near the shield in the center. Once you get the sole Architect mode Achievement, I doubt you’ll want to play it again.
Placing towers in Architect mode (like a boss)
Most of BulletAsylum’s Achievements involve reaching certain waves of Arcade mode with high accuracy ratings. You’ll probably need to turn on the Battle Cry modifier to slow things down and then carefully fire single shots to get the Wave 8 accuracy Achievement. Architect Mode’s Achievement, ‘Don’t Cross the Streams’ requires firing four lasers at once - the trick is that you have to make it pretty far before you can afford them. It'll take very careful play to pull off – see this Achievement guide for details.
Also, the ‘Maximum Awesome’ Achievement (fully upgrade everything) doesn’t unlock properly for many people. When it didn’t unlock for me, I turned off the phone, turned it back on, started the game up, and went straight to the Upgrades menu. Then it finally popped. That’s a lot of trouble, but the developers are apparently working on a fix.
BulletAsylum’s colorful neon graphics and flashy explosions are simplistic but pretty. It also has a quality unlocking system that extends the life of the game more than say, Orbital. But the positives don’t make up for the fact that it takes no skill to play Arcade and Survival modes, resulting in a boring experience. Architect Mode doesn’t help since it takes the challenge too far. Many gamers will enjoy BulletAsylum for a few games, but the simplistic gameplay won’t provide any replay value once the last Achievement has unlocked.
BulletAsylum costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Marketplace.