Red Nova is fast and fun but needs a little work
In the game Red Nova (for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) you play a lone ship against a bunch of flying enemies in a 3/4 angled, fast-paced arcade space shooter. Red Nova launched to some acclaim, and I can see why. The sound is great, the graphics, while low-polygon, are good and the animation and feel is quite nice. You can tell a lot of time and attention went into the game. The story is pretty worn out (protect the mother ship), but the gameplay reminded me a bit of one of my favorite games ever: Lunatic Fringe. People have drawn comparisons to Asteroids, but Lunatic Fringe had the same angle, the same frenetic feel and the same attitude as Red Nova. Yet where Lunatic Fringe was simple, Red Nova is more complex. This is not necessarily a good thing.
InterfaceI played both the iPhone and iPad versions and must say I found both challenging. The limited real estate on the iPhone made it sometimes tricky to see your enemies approaching. The iPad, on the other hand, could be tricky in that the control scheme requires you to use the screen in a set of quadrants, with each one allowing you to perform various tasks in the game. More on this in a moment.
The graphics look better on the iPhone due to the somewhat chunky nature of the low-poly models used in the game. Still, the frame rate at which everything happens is terrific if you like action. Unfortunately, on the iPad, and to some extent the iPhone, the text is so washed out or small (and in a funky font) that you may find yourself squinting to read it. The usual meters for shields and energy are in the upper left while the upper right shows kills and power-ups. Incoming enemies have a warning indicator that moves along the edge of the screen when the baddies are in range.
GameplayAs I said, the screen is divided into four sections. Each quadrant has a control. The lower left controls weapons. By pressing down and moving your finger 360 degrees, you control the firing of the ship. As a twist, you can fire missiles by flicking your thumb to the left. This is actually a nice touch, and I wish more games did it. The lower left, of course, is your directional control. Tap and hold in the direction you want to go. Like Asteroids and Lunatic Fringe, momentum carries you a ways as well.
The top two quadrants should be feedback-only, in my opinion. Instead, the top left not only shows you shields and hull integrity, but how much power you have available. Power pellets are automatically awarded every time you blow up an enemy. By tapping and holding for a moment then sliding outside the circle, you recharge your shields. Why not make shields self-regenerating? Or just require a tap? Because most of the time the regeneration control either didn't work or barely recharged the shields. Usually it just distracted me long enough to get seriously damaged. This interaction is too much, and the payoff is too little.
Further complicating matters is the deployment of power-ups, like a speed boost or bomb. Deploying these requires you to be firing your guns, then flick upwards. It doesn't always "take" because you have to fire for a while, in my experience, to trigger the power-up. If I could simply flick left to fire missiles and up to use a power-up without having to hold and fire, that'd be perfect.
The bad guys keep spawning and you'll keep getting creamed, even on easy. There's a nice variety of enemies, each with different weapons. What's your poison? The laser ship with the beam spanning the screen or the Ferengi-looking ship with a wide spread of damaging bullets -- one way or another they'll blow you to pieces. You are allowed to choose from three ships, each one with different stats. One is really just an antique, and the other is more maneuverable. The first ship to choose from is what you'll use 99 percent of the time.
ConclusionI could see that, with some practice, you might get pretty good at Red Nova. You can use an iPhone or iPod touch as a controller for the iPad version, too, and that was nice. The pace is frenetic from the start. Within moments, smaller drones (I guess, there's no legend of what bad guy is what) that don't fire but home in on you appear out of nowhere. I think most of the ones I destroyed at first just ran into my shield. At least you get power charges from them -- which you still have to administer to your ship like droplets of tincture.
Once you start playing the game you do have fun. If you take the time to master the quirky control scheme, it's actually a lot of fun. At a mere US$0.99, Red Nova is worth the price. If you're not a fan of these types of games stay far, far away. But if you love a decent space action shooter, I think Red Nova is a good bargain.