The arcade shooter is a style of game that I love, but which went out of fashion in the last decade as improved hardware led most developers to embrace the immersion of a first-person or third-person perspective.
Fortunately, the constraints of mobile hardware have caused resurgence of arcade shooting games, and there’s a hoard of titles to choose from. Perhaps too many, as with tower defense, picking out the really great games from the schlock isn’t easy. That’s why I’ve rounded up the five absolute must-play arcade shooters for iOS.
Age Of Zombies ($0.99)
This amusing action game is from Halfbrick Studios, better known for Jetpack Joyride and Fruit Ninja. Age Of Zombies follows the adventures of Barry Steakfries as he tries to stem a zombie plague caused by a time-traveling mad scientist. Halfbrick is known for its cartoonish art style, and it can be seen in full force here, even though Age Of Zombies is actually one of the developer’s older titles.
This arcade shooting game remains one of the greats because of its excellent pace, solid level design and awesome weapons. Individual levels can be defeated in ten or fifteen minutes, but each fits into a broader campaign that will take four or five hours to defeat. And the guns, ranging from rocket launchers to flame throwers, are hilarious fun. This is very much a zombie game as well as being a shooter, and that means there’s never a shortage of baddies to explode.
Age Of Zombies can be purchased for $0.99 on the App Store and will work with any iPhone 3GS or newer and any iPad.
Darkside seems a conventional arcade space shooter at first glance. Once you start to move, however, you’ll see what sets the title apart. Instead of moving across a simple 2D field that loops, or a confined map, Darkside puts you on 3D globe. The globe is small, too, so weapons fire can actually arch across the surface of whatever asteroid you’re hovering above and hit enemy vessels.
Some might not like the claustrophobia the small field of play encourages, but there’s no disputing the action that results. With little room to maneuver, and no escape, your fight-or-flight reflex quickly turns to the former. Darkside encourages this with a liberal sprinkling of power-ups that can be acquired almost immediately.
You can download a free trial of the game and enjoy arcade mode. Those who want to play the missions and unlock other features will need to part ways with $1.99.
This action-packed shooter doesn’t offer much of a story or setting. You’re a robot of some kind on a ship of some kind, and you have to do some things. The lack of an exciting backdrop is actually a bone, however, because Robokill is designed to kill time. You can pick up the arcade shooting game, clear a few rooms (each takes no more than a minute) and then get back to whatever you were doing before.
That’s not to say the game is dull during long sessions, however, because Robokill offers both an incredible range of opponents and RPG-lite mechanics that allow you to customize your robot over time. You can choose grenade launchers that sacrifice firing rate for big damage, pew-pew opponents to death with rapid-fire blasters, or fight them off at close range with a shotgun (and much more). Weapons can drop from opponents, too, and sometimes have random stat boosts that make them even more lethal.
Robokill has benefited from aggressive updates that include new weapons and equipment. The game is $2.99, but there are in-app purchases that can give you a boost in particularly challenging fights.
Space Miner HD ($4.99)
I remember playing a PC port of Asteroids on my first PC. It was perfect for twelve-year-old me; a simple, fun yet challenging game I could play for a few minutes before school or dinner. There are a lot of games about shooting asteroids, but Space Miner HD is one of the few that’s actually re-created the balance of that decades-old arcade hit.
Of course, being a modern game, there’s a lot more to it than just shooting asteroids. You collect minerals from them, too, and use minerals to upgrade your ship with more dangerous weapons, better hulls and improved shields. All of this carries through a surprisingly hilarious and well-written campaign that boasts exploration, missions and boss fights. Overall, there’s very little not to love here.
Well perhaps the price, as $4.99 is a lot of a mobile game going on three years old. But then again, this may well be the best arcade shooter on iOS today. Those with less money to burn, or a more competitive spirit, should check out Space Miner Blast, a spin-off priced at $0.99 that’s all about topping the global leaderboard.
While Space Miner HD is a modern take on a game like Asteroids, PewPew is just a game like asteroids. Well, okay, not exactly – but its retro graphics and fast-paced gameplay are clearly a homage to not just Asteroids but other classics like Tempest and Robotron: 2084.
PewPew is broken up into five different game modes. Each boils down to a simple ruleset, but each game mode is quite unique. Pandemonium, for example, puts you up against insane and unpredictable enemies, while Assault forces you destroy growing waves of enemies that move in formation.
What really sets this arcade shooting game apart, however, is the controls. They’re butter smooth and the game is smart enough to pause if a finger slips off one of the virtual thumbsticks. And while the graphics are rudimentary, they operate at an incredible frame rate, so you can’t blame the game if you fail to react in time.
PewPew is free and works on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad with iOS 4.0 or newer. There’s also a $2.99 sequel with more game modes, more ships and a campaign.
Is Your Favourite Missing?
These games are the best twin-stick shooters I’ve come across for iOS, and I’ve played a fair lot. But I can’t play everything, so leave your thoughts in the comments if you know a great twin-stick shooter you think can hold a candle to the games I’ve listed here.