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Big Bang Mini Review

By Matt Cabral, 2/6/2009

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Southpeak Interactive's new Nintendo DS shooter is an unexpected treat that's super addictive in both its quick-paced play and charming visual style. Now, before you gun nuts go running for your DS's, you should know Big Bang Mini is not a "shooter" in the same vein of the handheld's recent FPS Moon or even a mindless arcadey kill-fest like Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ. No, this is more the type of title that'll appeal to folks who lost countless hours of their lives to the likes of Everday Shooter and Geometry Wars or, even more accurate, old school Space Invaders. But instead of blasting away at encroaching aliens, you'll take out your frustrations on cloud-sitting panda bears and pirate snowmen. These bizarro enemies--and many other equally unlikely baddies--play right into Big Bang's silly style, which we will get to in a minute.

First, though, this unique shooter's basic premise demands defining; if the Fourth-of-July-like box art doesn't tip you off, you'll soon discover Big Bang loves fireworks more than an adolescent pyromaniac. In fact, the cause of many a blown off thumb, is this title's main mode of fire. Simply flicking the stylus--as you'd strike a match--sends blazing displays of beauty to the top screen, taking out enemies in glowing paths of glory. Just the act of igniting the fireworks is a blast, not to mention a terrific use of the touch screen. Just fa ew levels in, you'll wonder why all DS titles don't offer you a stock of roman candles and bottle rockets. It's no wonder there's an unlockable "relax" mode that packs all the fireworks fun without any of the in-game threats.

Although, it's actually those very threats populating the main 9-mission (each packing ten mini challenges for a whopping 90 levels) game that'll find you unable to put this one down. Many of the enemies come in the form of those aforementioned cutesy characters, but--and this is the hook--more often than not, you're your own worst enemy. You see, every time you unleash a blazing display of pyrotechnics, you run the risk of being burned by their fallout. If you nail a bad guy, you're good, but miss and you better be ready to dodge the fiery debris. It's this element that really ramps up the strategy, because your twitchy gaming instincts will want to fire off barrages willy nilly, hoping to land a shot while throwing caution to the wind. But such trigger-happiness won’t get you very far, as you’ll soon discover you’re only helping do the enemies’ dirty work who, by the way, will be sending their own arsenal of nasty projectiles your way.

Thankfully, you’re not a sitting duck; using the stylus, you can move your avatar anywhere on the bottom screen to avoid the oncoming assaults from your enemies and yourself. I use the term “avatar” because your fireworks launcher will take on a variety of different forms throughout the game, including various UFO-type objects and even a puffy snowball. This diversity spreads to the rest of the game as well, as each of the nine missions is almost like an entirely new game, taking place in a different city—represented by vibrant backdrops—and hosts varying degrees of wacky baddies. In addition to the snowmen and pandas, expect to aim your glittery rockets at playful monkeys, mean rainbows (who knew?), Chinese paper dragons, and day-of-the-dead-like skeletons. The visual presentation, spanning everything from cel-shading to classic pixels, weaves the perfect backdrop for this out-there title.

Each level also gets tweaked by way of game-changing power-ups you acquire. The snow-themed mission, for example, grants you with an awesome whirlwind effect that attracts enemy fire, while other levels outfit you with shields and time-slowing powers. You can't carry most of these special abilities with you to the next levels, either. While this might seem like a fun-killing flaw, it actually keeps the experience fresh because you’ll never rely on one power for very long, and you'll always be anticipating what secret weapon the next level holds. Each of these ever-changing elements really keep the experience varied from start to finish. Where similar titles simply unleash more—or more powerful—enemies at you as they progress, Big Bang manages to retain its core gameplay premise, while still throwing some major curve balls your way.

Level progression is handled by grabbing stars from fallen enemies, which fill a meter on the bottom display. This cranks up the fun factor as well, as swimming through a debris-riddled screen in an attempt to snag these things packs some pretty intense moments. Successfully beating the first nine levels of each mission also treats you to a final-level boss battle, adding even more variety to the firework-spewing antics.

The only frustrating issue with the experience is that the stylus and your own fingers can get in the way of the chaotic action. You’ll definitely be prompted to “retry” on several occasions simply because you couldn’t see what was going on. That’s more an inherent fault of the hardware than a shortcoming of the game, though. Perhaps a longer stylus would alleviate this, so our clenched hands wouldn't have to creep so close to the screen. Given the full-stylus interface, though, the developers have done a wonderful job. Couple the pyro-firing controls with diversified addictive gameplay and some truly engaging art direction, oh, and a $20 price tag, and you’ve got a DS experience that's more fun than lighting illegal fireworks on the Fourth.

Overall: 90%



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