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Belowscape Review

Belowscape LogoDual stick style shooters seem all-too common these days with little to distinguish themselves from each other. At this very moment, I have at least three such games installed on my iPod Touch.

Though Belowscape looks and plays like a laid-back Geometry Wars clone, its use of touch and tilt controls provide a simple yet elegant solution to a problem many iPhone/iPod Touch games of this genre fail to solve; the lack of tactile feedback from the device.

Dual stick style shooters can be adapted to play on platforms without two analog sticks and still be fun. This is evidenced by Everyday Shooter on PSP and Geometry Wars Galaxies on Wii and DS. The iPhone/iPod Touch platform hasn't fared as well up until this point. Read More...

Lately I've been playing iDracula - Undead Awakening and 30 and Dirty quite a bit. While I think they are both good games in their own right, I find that they and other dual stick style titles suffer from not having any sort of tactile feedback available from the touch screen.

I find that my thumbs have a tendency to slide off of the spaces developers use to represent the sticks of a traditional controller on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Coupled with some lack of finite control and sensitivity in my left thumb due to my Palsy, it's proven to be quite frustrating to play a genre I've loved since the days of Robotron 2048 and Berserk.

This Probably Looks FamiliarBelowscape solves this problem by having you use tilt controls to pilot their triangular ship around the screen and one of two touch screen methods to fire weapons. You must hold your device flat to play Belowscape and the control is very tight. This prevents the need for excessive tilting and screen obstruction. It also allows for quick ship maneuvering.

The first firing method involves simply touching in the direction you want to fire your weapon. As of v1.05, a second control option allows you to place a wheel representing an analog stick in the bottom right corner of the screen. When using the default controls the ship fires its single stream of bullets continuously. When using the "virtual  joystick" method the stream will stop if you lift your thumb or finger off of the control area.

Both control options work very well and in my opinion are the best of their type available on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. I prefer the default touch controls because the dual touch capability of the device allows you to fire off shots in different directions quickly and easily.

I can best describe the gameplay and general feel of Belowscape as Geometry Wars light. Aside from the minimal, soft neon look, many of the enemy ships in Belowscape look and behave much like those in the title that most obviously inspired it.

My main problem with Belowscape is not that is essentially a clone of a game that itself is derivative. The problem is that unlike Geometry Wars or many of the games of this type before it, Belowscape feels slow to get going. It takes a good five minutes for the enemy swarms to start getting larger and piling up, so gamers looking for a quick high-intensity fix on a bus or train ride won't find what they need here. Getting a high score in this game is more about endurance than twitch reflexes.

Belowscape Controls Very WellBelowscape is made up of a single mode played on a single screen-sized playfield. You're given three ships to simply amass score and survive. As you advance through levels - here called circles - enemy ships will be worth more points and new foes will begin to appear. I can't tell if advancement is based on score or time or how many rings there are. At 45-50,000 points I'm usually on ring four.

It's a real shame that Belowscape does not have online leaderboards, especially since it has you input a name for an in-game high score board. Hopefully this gets remedied in a future patch. I'd also have liked to have seen a better power up or combo system. It takes a few minutes to even get a second "pea shooter" stream.

Developer 10tons has some space to improve their own game, but have built a laid a solid foundation for others attempting to bring this type of game to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Belowscape was $0.99 at the time it launched and it's literally been worth every penny thanks to the excellent controls. Those frustrated with other dual stick style shooter controls on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform or gamers looking for a decent Geometry Wars clone should definitely check it out, there is a free Lite version available as well.

Editor’s Note: Belowscape received a rather major update on March 11, 2009. The v1.10 update added online leaderboards, even more control options, boss stages and the option to play two different game modes; Survival and Rush. 10tons has also reworked the difficulty curve to make Belowscape feel more intense. As the saying goes, the best just got better. Though we do not change our review scores, I can say that I now consider this game a must-have, even at the increased price of $2.99.

Positives:

+ Excellent Control Methods with Plenty of Options
+ Sleek, Attractive Look & Style
+ Online Leaderboards


Negatives:

- Essentially a Clone of a Clone

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Game Forward score: 4/5

Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward

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Belowscape (iPhone/iPod Touch) Quick Facts:

Genre: Dual Stick Style Shooter
Developer: 10tons Ltd.
Publisher: 10tons Ltd.
Release Date: March 11, 2009 (v1.10)
Price: $2.99
iTunes Rating: 4+