Super Ox Wars for iPhone is absolutely mental. When you first boot it up and play, the bizaare visuals and collectibles seem completely unfathomable, but then you realise that despite this, you are having a great time and start to soak up the madness, as this is a brilliant, brilliant shoot ‘em up.
The crazy look and feel of the game should come as no surprise to fans of Llamasoft and Jeff Minter, but to anyone coming to the game unaware of the likes of Llamatron and Space Giraffe, it may come as a bit of a shock. It is a bit like being transported to one of many small British bedrooms in the 1980’s with tiny TVs pumping out the multicoloured madness and bizarre sounds of Spectrum and C64 games.
I have always loved Llamasoft games, but I have to say that this one is just a bit more special than most, as it is a fast paced mix of Xevious and Ikaruga that gets the difficulty spot on.
The game is a vertically scrolling shooter, with your ship firing automatically(unless you have an iCade, which gives you the option of manual fire), and utilises the tried and tested method of having the ship mirror the movements of your finger on the touchscreen, allowing you to keep your finger away from obscuring the action as much as possible.
That is it for player inputs, as there is a refreshing lack of smart bombs and the like. The game takes the polarity formula of Ikaruga and gives it a nice little twist. Here, you can’t manually switch polarities but are instead granted different polarities depending on the pick ups you collect.
In Super Ox Wars the colours are replaced by blue stars and red hearts, representing two different oxen and collecting either will give you the firepower of that ox, so collect enough red hearts and you will get a trail of hearts, heart shaped bullets and so on. Collecting blue stars will do the same, but only with a different set of firepower upgrades along the way. It is really up to the player to decide which way he wants to play, as the different shots also offer up different defensive options. Do you collect red and have your shots push enemy fire back or go for blue, which makes your ship repel some fire, or just collect everything and ignore the whole polarity thing altogether?
It is this inherent gameplay choice, made on the fly that really makes the game. Wheres in Ikaruga, you were kind of forced to play the correct way, here you are completely free to adopt whichever style of play suits you best. I’m guessing that a lot of people will play and beat this without ever noticing the whole polarity thing, although the developer has tried his best to let you know, as the ship takes on a different hue, there are separate scores for the different oxen, and the Game Center achievements are geared at steering you down the polarity path.
The game plays perfectly, with insane enemies, graphics that you won’t forget, and the same weird sounds you remember hearing way back when. The game is a joy to play, with an inspired continue system, built in Game Center leaderboards and achievements.
Super smooth and super addictive, Super Ox Wars is right up there with the likes of DoDonPachi Resurrection as one of the best examples of the genre on iOS. Superbly different and beautifully British, this is one you should not miss.
PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC game reviews, opinions and retro articles