Portable gamer - Santa Fe
iPhone call for help

Fireworks and finger gymnastics

We're vacationing in Santa Fe, New Mexico this week, and I'm spending part of my free time playing a slew of recent portable games on the iPhone, DS, and PSP. Please don't look for any hard analysis in these little missives. They're mostly just for fun. :-)

Cultures collided today when we visited a French pastry shop famous for its crepes. The lunch special: a chorizo and egg crepe topped with green chile sauce. Somewhere in Paris a pastry chef just shuddered in horror. We, nevertheless, enjoyed every scrumptious bite.

I played a couple of terrific games today, both suggested to me by readers: Big Bang Mini for the DS (thanks, Nat) and Eliss for the iPhone (thanks Alex). These two games share almost nothing in common, aside from the fact that they both make excellent use of what's special about their respective systems: Big Bang Mini relies on the stylus to launch fireworks onto the upper screen; and Eliss takes advantage of the iPhone's multi-touch capabilities to control an abstract universe of blendable planets.

Big-bang-mini-box1-300x269 Big Bang Mini combines elements of Space Invaders, Meteos, and Geometry Wars to create a brilliant genre-combo shoot-em-up game that has me thoroughly hooked. You launch fireworks to fend off enemies, all the while dodging debris falling from the upper screen. Each level contains its own art style, music, and special abilities...and, of course, a boss battle that unlocks the next level.

The gameplay is frenetic, but fair, and it induces the kind of in-the-zone feel that few games seem to get right anymore. I so desperately want to describe this fireworks-based game as  "a blast to play," but even on vacation I just can't let myself go there. ;-)

For what it's worth, I strongly urge you to ignore the inexplicably misguided review 1UP gave this game. I rarely take issue with game review scores, but it seems to me the reviewer assigned to Big Bang Mini missed the point of the basic gameplay mechanics entirely. Shooting and moving your ship are designed as two separate activities that must be coordinated by the player. Suggesting that the game is fundamentally flawed because you can't move and shoot at the same time seems wrongheaded to me because it insists on a gameplay design the developers clearly rejected in favor of a different kind of challenge.

Eliss Eliss is a hard game to describe, so I'll let the designer, Steph Thirion, tell you about it:

Your job is to keep up harmony in an odd universe made of blendable planets. Touch-control multiple planets at once, join them together into giant orbs or split them up into countless dwarf planets, and match their size with the squeesars. Wipe off the stardust, resist the attraction of the vortex and other space phenomena, and slow down the passage of time. Each of the 20 levels will require creative ways and strategies in using your fingers. Warm up your hands, you're up for some serious finger gymnastics in the bizarro galaxy.

Finger gymnastics indeed. Eliss requires you to manage planets as they emerge, using the iPhone's pinch or expand control requiring two fingers. The game recognizes three fingers as well, and you'll need them to keep up. I'm still dubious about iPhone games that insist on obscuring the screen to deliver inputs, but Eliss cleverly relies on simple abstract circles of various sizes which are easy to see and control. This game has been nominated for an IGF award in the "Innovation in Mobile Game Design" category, and it's easy to see why.

I generally hate it when writers say "I can't describe this game. You need to play it for yourself." But in this case...you really need to play it for yourself. In the meantime, you can check out the video below for some gameplay footage.

I'll be back tomorrow with more gaming on the go, including Zen Bound, iDracula, and Edge.