Dark Phantom is taking over the world with an army of tanks, mobile missile launchers and armored personnel carriers. Standing in their way is the giant chicken walker mech officially known as XR-1, but given the number of hits it’s going to take, it’ll no doubt earn the nickname iDamaged (Out Now, $0.99). The star of The Red Thing’s iOS debut is one of those contraptions engineering authorities might say is completely unfeasible, but that doesn’t make driving it and blowing up stuff with it any less fun!
In a nice change of pace, iDamaged is one of the few side-scrolling shoot ’em ups where the player is bigger than the opposition — but then again, you know how that old saying goes, and this giant can fall hard indeed. iDamaged manages to be the toughest shooter I’ve played that didn’t go the Bullet Hell route; rather, its approach is one of strict resource management. When the mech pushes into new enemy territory a formation of ground vehicles usually pulls up and begins unloading on it, giving the player mere seconds to find a sweet spot that minimizes how many bullets are pelting the mech. If the mech can back up enough to be out of harm’s way then the player may pick off its opposition at leisure; if not, this constitutes an emergency, so the player will have to flip on the mech’s store of powerful secondary weapons and hammer away at the offending foes. Defeats come frustratingly swift, but the seasoned player will realize that for every Game Over there’s some resource laying unused in inventory, or that enemies could have been eliminated in a different order, and there’s an undeniable charm in this. One could very well think of iDamaged as a mashup of shoot ’em up and logic puzzler!
The most exciting feature implemented in the final build is an upgrade kiosk, where the player can spend achievement points on the mech’s primary and secondary weapons, air support, shielding, and gun coolant. Every upgrade gives the player a little more leeway to survive. The gun coolant is especially critical; along with all the other considerations, the player has to be careful to fire at a measured pace lest the mech overheat and exact a brief but punishing cool-off period. That the redeemable achievements are tied to weapon usage makes trying out unfavored weapons completely worthwhile; learning how to use the short-range flamethrower and heavy rounds gets you that much closer to a coveted coolant or shield upgrade.
iDamaged has undergone a ton of UI iterations since I got my first peek at it back in May, and the game’s turned out remarkably solid in this area despite how complex it is: the player has to juggle walking, targeting, firing and weapon switching after all. Tilt controls can be applied to walking or to aiming (not both at the same time, of course), but I ended up sticking with the default virtual buttons for movement, and the tap-to-aim function for targeting. Holding at the screen allows the player to drag the target reticle around freely, and if sensitivity is cranked up, targeting can be done relative to the player’s finger — this is important as a backup option for reaching targets that happen to park behind the fire button. The weapon switching buttons especially impressed me; they’re the tiniest reliable buttons I’ve yet seen on iOS!
Players should expect to settle in for a few minutes of interface experimentation and calibration, so consider iDamaged one that casual gamers will find hard to sink their teeth into. It’s too bad there isn’t a live training level to help players figure out which setup is best for them in relative safety; for now, the opening of the first stage will have to suffice. Once the mech is up and running, however, veteran action and shooter fans will be impressed with the way all of the iOS control options come into play: double taps and swipes make the mech fire homing missiles and call for air support as long as necessary pickups have been scavenged from the battlefield.
iDamaged still has much to gain from updates. Hitting it hardest at release is the fact that the game has only three stages; its length tops out at an hour and a half even factoring in retries, although there is some replay value in returning to completed levels and seeing how different they feel with upgrades in place. While I enjoyed the game’s usual battle-of-attrition feel, there’s no question that iDamaged rises to its best when it asks the player to put in a little footwork. Most enemies currently remain still and fire at a static angle even if their shots are hopelessly off the mark; it would be great to see an ill-parked tank reposition itself for a better shot! Only missile launchers and the third boss provide neat airborne threats that give the mech’s legs a workout. Other flying vehicles hover harmlessly overhead for now, providing generous bonuses if the player can get a good bead on them.
Improving the formula will ultimately depend on having more freedom to roam; the game currently locks the player’s scroll progress, so the mech can’t back into previously conquered territory for extra breathing room. The zoom-in effect that happens every time the mech fires also does more harm than good by depriving the player a full view of incoming missiles while fighting mobile rocket launchers. iDamaged’s hand-drawn backgrounds sure make for a beautiful scenic route though, and Mattias Holmgren’s soundtrack lends the game an eerie, industrial and war-torn mood. On the audio downside, there’s just one track played during the game’s levels — let’s hope there’s some more Holmgren goodness when the first content update hits!
iFanzine Verdict: Complex, uber-challenging, and short at the moment, iDamaged caters well to action and shoot ’em up fans who are looking for gameplay depth but don’t mind waiting for more levels down the road. More content, more freedom to roam its levels, and more dynamic enemy AI can make this one gold over the long haul.