Planet Wars Review

The last thing a space marine wants is an escort job through hordes of unfriendly arthropods, but there’s a bright side as long as they’re bleeding cash! It may look like just another dual-stick shooter at first glance, but Planet Wars (Out Now, $0.99) lets you reinvest your combat earnings in a way that makes it one of the deepest and most interesting offerings in the genre.

Planet Wars’ heart is its intermission upgrade system. Every part of your trusty gun – barrel, stock, handle and ammo clip – affects your mobility, range, and firing speed, to say nothing of the gun’s resulting style. Whether you’d rather play it safe at long range or get in the enemy’s face with a shotgun is up to you and determined by which parts you’ve equipped before heading into battle. You can also invest in armor and backup, which can take the form of AI companions or airstrikes. Planet Wars’ ten level campaign might sound short, but it lasts quite a while as you head in, get overwhelmed, and invest your retained earnings in new gear before trying again. This is, without a doubt, one of the deepest games of its kind.

Developer ColePowered also made a brilliant decision to craft missions that throw Tower Defense into the mix — and it works better than you could ever imagine! You’re given all the time you need to drag and drop machine gun emplacements, walls, and entrenched soldiers onto the battlefield before giving enemies the go-ahead, and then hope you’ve set up the right kind of support to survive a countdown clock as they swarm in. A Survival Mode lets you play with this Tower Defense/shoot ’em up mix to your heart’s content. Simply tossing everything in your toolbox onto the field is no sure path to victory; it’s crucial that the barriers and gun towers don’t hamper your marine’s movement too much.

Not that your marine can get around all that fast even when the path is clear; the little green-armored sprite creeps along literally at a snail’s pace. Movement speed is something you can influence through the equipment process, true, but just getting your marine to keep pace with the slower enemies exacts undue sacrifice in other areas. The player character’s lead feet take the element of real-time maneuver out of combat — it’s all about strategically reloading so you’re never left with an empty gun as enemies close in. Also weighing on my enjoyment is the fact that the virtual joysticks don’t track with your thumbs if you miss the touch activation areas when you first hit the screen. Finally, I can’t figure out for the life of me how to switch equipment in the middle of battle without restarting the mission. The game has a lot of strengths in its favor and addressing these issues in updates could drive its appeal up dramatically.

Planet Wars squeezes a lot of personality out of its diminutive sprites thanks to eight-directional movement and little details like enemies dragging their half-blasted bodies around until they’re finished off with a few more shots. The music is great — now if only more tracks could be inserted. The campaign boasts a short story presented in manga style and filled with ironic humor, making Planet Wars all the more memorable despite its aesthetic simplicity elsewhere.

iFanzine Verdict: If you’re a fan of dual-stick shooters and are looking for a genre offering that’s much deeper than average, Planet Wars should be a real treat — as long as you don’t mind a sluggish player character at your fingertips. A little more polish in updates could go a long way here.