Who you gonna call when a bunch of giant space creatures and rogue ships have started tearing up your star system? Rico the space raccoon would be a good start, seeing as he rides around in a starship armed with plasma cannons. Taking orders from a wise-cracking bear admiral, he suits up and gets ready for some intense Boss Battles (Out Now, Free to Play)!
Time flies by when you’re playing this vertical scrolling shoot ’em up courtesy of Backflip Studios, and so do its eight bite-sized levels. The bosses waiting at the end of each take much longer to put down than their hordes of predictable minions, and this is welcome because the bosses make for interesting encounters. Whether it’s the giant space bee that challenges the player to a game of Invaders, or the serpantine rock thing that continually splits and fills the screen if the player isn’t careful to target its head only, they all prove that the developer has great insight into what it takes to make a compelling shoot ’em up.
While sufficiently challenging, Boss Battles remains accessible by shunning the increasingly trendy bullet hell approach. Assisting the player are upgrades that can be purchased between levels, making use of gems that reward his or her shooting prowess. There are more weapons and assist droids to choose from than the player can earn in a single playthrough, which lends Boss Battles both a compelling hook and a fair bit of replay value. Enemy speed and endurance within a specific level rise each time it is revisited, keeping the player from dominating too much with the purchases.
The player drags Rico’s ship directly with a finger, and as long as it’s moving it’s also firing. Its maneuverability and reaction time both feel spot on. The ship moves relative to a point just above the player’s finger rather than directly under it — a design point that’s much appreciated for the way it blunts the dilemma of the finger obscuring action in the ship’s immediate vicinity. On the other hand, enemies that approach from behind, and incoming fire that lines up with the player’s finger, still pose the occasional line of sight nuisance.
Bosses get life bars to let the player know how close victory is, but the integrity of Rico’s ship has to be inferred from its appearance: it gets dinged up every time it takes a hit, and two or three will destroy it. If the novice player makes efficient upgrade choices and doesn’t spend much time on re-tries, Boss Battles should last about an hour on average. The ads supporting this one’s free-to-play status aren’t as annoying as I feared they might be when I picked it up, but it’s worth noting that the rotating ad content isn’t always appropriate for the kiddies. You know, in case it wasn’t obvious that you’d find suggestive dating ads in a game about cute, furry pilots blasting monsters to smithereens.
iFanzine Verdict: As far as free-to-play titles go, Boss Battles is surprisingly compelling thanks to its thoughtfully designed baddies and thorough upgrade system. It hasn’t completely solved the line of sight issues the shoot ’em genre is so vulnerable to, but draws even with many of its paid peers. Definitely worth a look if you can handle in-game ads and don’t need bullet hell challenge to enjoy the genre.