Mutant Storm was released on the iPad last week, offering a classic arcade shooter experience complete with appropriately neon graphics. The game adds a few twists to the old formula though, including some rich 3D models and interesting difficulty scaling mechanism.
You take control of a ship trying to wipe out an alien menace. You have unlimited ammunition with which to destroy a set number of waves in each level. Mutant Storm adopts the standard dual-joystick layout: tapping and dragging on one side determines the direction of your ship's movement, while the other determines the direction of your firing. Scores are generated based on how quickly you clear the map. You can earn points multipliers (belts) after reaching certain kill counts, as well as bonuses at the end of a level for leaving friendly cube structures intact.
In adventure mode you only get three lives, so you have to be diligent about avoiding collision and enemy projectiles while conducting your symphony of destruction. Though enemies will occasionally drop limited-time power-ups, you'll have to really make them count; you are only granted waypoints every ten levels, so if you run out of lives on level 19, you have to start again from 10. This can create a steep difficulty curve very quickly but can be counterbalanced by a martial arts-inspired belt-based difficulty level system.
You start off with white belt, and as you rack up kills, you fill up a bar until you advance to the next difficulty level. If you die, you drop down a rank, but at least you can start at your highest rank for future levels if you think can handle it. If things get too rough, you can drop down to a lower belt, but of course you'll also earn fewer points. There is a slightly more forgiving game mode called Tally, where you simply try to beat your previous high score on any given level without the pressure of having to stay alive for long.
Though Mutant Storm borrows heavily from the old-school top-down perspective, the game is far from 2D. In addition to levels being populated by an array of richly-modeled and dynamically-lit enemies, Mutant Storm shifts camera angles regularly to great dramatic effect. I almost wish that tilting the iPad would do something with the camera perspective, but that might get disorienting. The graphics are fully optimized for the new iPad's Retina display and can apparently hold a steady 60 frames per second on any model. The only real disappointment I had in the visuals were in the menus and user interface; everything on that front was fairly basic and bland.
There's a limited amount of ship customization to mix things up. You have access to four different chassis and a dozen color schemes, but they don't amount to much amid the chaos of battle. On that note, there aren't any unlocks besides getting to the next level, and as such, little sense of progression beyond getting your next high score. Maybe I'm addicted to leveling up, but it feels like there needs to some kind of persistent rewards to keep me coming back, otherwise you're just living stage-to-stage. Though that kind of format is perfect if you're looking for something light, fast, and non-committal, Mutant Storm isn't available on the iPhone right now, which is exactly where you would want to play that style.
Mutant Storm offers fast and furious arcade action to the iPad, while bringing some sharp, brilliant graphics to the table. The difficulty curve can be steep, though there's a finely-graded system for ramping difficulty up and down in a relatively sensible way. If you're currently looking for a classic shooting game, Mutant Storm is a steal at $2.99, but that price is set to balloon once the launch sale wraps up. Pick it up now!