DoDonPachi Blissful Death Review
When I first bought my iPhone I was eager to load the tiny device up with games, happily dropping my cash money on an absurd number of bite-sized titles. Very quickly did I come to realize that the iOS app store offers few genuine classics, most games easily filtered into one of three categories: moderately amusing casual trash, shameless rip-offs of said casual trash, and regular old crap.
I can point to Jetpack Joyride as an especially noteworthy disappointment, the game having earned high marks from a variety of mainstream gaming outlets, accruing a slew of Mobile Game of the Year awards (we gave em' one). It's not that Jetpack Joyride isn't fun, but having seen such incredible praise I expected a whole lot more than what was delivered: a simplistic one-button outing useful for wasting time waiting in the hallway outside of a small claims courtroom, nothing more complex than that Helicopter game me and my classmates used to play during High School computer class. Is this really the best the iPhone has to offer? Are our expectations for mobile games so low that dinky little flash clones are worthy of our top accolades?
Everytime I snapped one of these screenshots, I died. You're welcome.
This is why I'm shunning my fellow gaming journalists and embracing Do-Don-Pachi Blissful Death as my new favorite iOS title, a beautiful little bout of bullet hell for people who aren't afraid to play a real video game on their cellular device. I know that simply saying such a thing opens me up to scorn, as it's an almost masturbatory gesture to heap praise upon a niche genre, like the Pitchfork reviewer who calls the latest Radiohead outing "trash" while extolling the brilliance of 18-time Grammy Award winning Polka artist Jimmy Sturr. But it seems baffling to me that the natural evolution of Space Invaders could seem so alien to people. You'll fling cartoon animals at brick houses, but the idea of firing lasers at swarms of mechanized scum seems too outlandish a concept to try attempting? C'mon now.
DoDonPachi is simple, a bunch of enemies are on the screen, and you have to shoot them. They will be shooting at you, so move around the screen in a manner that prevents you from being shot. It's this simplicity in concept that allows DoDonPachi to shine, taking these two game concepts to their logical extremes. More enemies, more bullets, more challenge. Adding more and more to the screen until you can't process the overload of stimulus, with no bombs remaining to clear the screen, your final life snuffed out as your high score pitifully climbs onto the bottom tier of OpenFeint leaderboards.
And you try again, going for ever higher scores, assuming that the wussification of our educational system hasn't yet stripped that violent alpha male instinct from you.
If your mom didn't let you play with nerf guns as a kid, you're probably not man enough for this game.
The precise level of control is the game's shining feature, the little ship moving perfectly in sync with your finger, letting players navigate through complicated bullet patterns as if dragging their finger through a coloring book maze (minus the satisfying tactile feel of nerve endings scratching against recycled newsprint). Though navigating the narrow walls of these bullet mazes is priority one, players are also tasked with switching between the powerful forward firing laser and screen-clearing wide-shot. Being able to smartly keep the challenge level down by quickly dispatching your foes is a major element of the game, and what adds a level of satisfaction to the gleeful explosions tearing through the endless horde of invaders, chain combo climbing ever higher. Let's just say that the first time that glorious hyper laser makes itself seen, the gleeful sense of destruction can seem almost enlightening, and you may want to remove any fire-generating devices (butane lighters, flint rocks) from your home to prevent these destructive impulses from manifesting themselves in real life.
What seems to put people off of games like DoDonPachi seems less the concept, and more the requirement of actual skill. Mobile players are largely unable to stomach a game which requires them to perform well consistently, rather than endlessly retry minute-long segments until they succeed through a combination of luck and brute-force. Luckily, Blissful Death has been scaled down to accommodate a more casual fan-base. The bullet patterns are simplistic compared to those of the original arcade game (the original patterns are used in the game's "Hell" difficulty), while the game uses your stock of bombs as extra lives, automatically firing off one of the enemy-decimating pieces of ordinance any time a bullet threatens to scratch your ship core. None of these concessions should insult the seasoned shooter junkie, as the only party at fault for their necessity is Apple themselves, who have still refused to endorse any third-party control device, Steve Jobs disgusting vision of a world without buttons helping to ruin mobile gaming for all of us.
Steve Jobs thought he understood gaming because he helped program the Atari game Breakout. Breakout sucks.
Now to be fair, the game is an arcade port, and though plenty of work has been put into making the experience enjoyable sans a proper joystick, there's still some obvious problems. In full screen mode the up-scaled graphics look a bit rough, and it's hard to find room to maneuver your ship. Downsizing the graphics gives your finger its own control area and restores the crisp look of the sprite-based visuals, though adds a noticeable border to the game, preventing a truly visually-pleasing experience. Also, we've all been spoiled by this stupid "dollar an app" paradigm, so while $4.99 is a pretty fair price for Blissful Death, the impulse buy has been taken off the table, forcing consumers to decide between this title or a pair of Bahn Mi sandwiches from the local Vietnamese deli. Both are filling in their own way, but only one comes with a bonus spring roll, meaning Cave could stand to lose many a sale to purveyors of tasty asian sandwiches.
Anyhow, if you're able to make a mental leap of faith and recognize that five crappy iPhone games are easily traded for one solid shooting experience, get this game. If you're having trouble convincing yourself, first get some food in your stomach, then reconsider without thoughts of lovingly-stacked meats and crisp fresh-cut vegetables dancing in your head.
DoDonPachi puts Jetpack Joyride to shame. If the game had better graphics I'd probably give it a ten.