The App Store seems to produce more twin-stick shooters than any other genre, likely due in part to the spectacular way in which iPhones and iPads lend themselves to the control schemes and setup. So it’s not a surprise to see Darkside, a free-to-play shooter reminiscent of games like Super Stardust HD for the PlayStation 3. Darkside offers solid graphical appeal as well as a “freemium” level that feels less obtrusive than most other releases on the market. It may be a much prettier version of the game we’ve been playing for years, but it sure feels good.
Darkside is split into separate levels that challenge you to eliminate all asteroids orbiting a smaller, inhabited planet. It’s almost like you’ve been transported back to the retro world of Asteroids, zapping every single hulking boulder into smaller pieces and watching those tinier chunks fly away into space before vaporizing those as well. The touch controls feel great, so aiming with the space on-screen for both “sticks” never feels like a chore. As you score higher combos and progress through each level, the asteroids grow larger, so the potential for danger is higher. That’s where things really start to heat up, and you’ve got more to deal with and less room for error.
“Another perfect day in our perfect colony–say, what’s that hurtling towards us?”
The twin sticks handle beautifully. It’s a treat even when you make a mistake and get to watch a rock hurtle to the planet below and cause a horrific explosion. Goodbye, small town with little people! When this happens, you know it’s your fault, as Darkside is responsive and fluid, even with its high-res graphics and chaos going on at all times.
That’s where the only real issue comes into play: sometimes it’s quite difficult to make out what exactly is going on. The asteroid pieces are often tinier than the eye can see, and it can be quite difficult to pinpoint precisely what you’re aiming at when the on-screen action really heats up. It’s easy to get caught watching the wrong tiny piece of asteroid and completely overlook the ones pelting the planet. Oops.
Krainians go home!
Other than that, Darkside is a great freemium choice that doesn’t wave the option to buy “upgrades” and other random offerings in your face every five minutes as you struggle to just test it out and see how things feel. You’re actually able to play a good portion of the actual game for free before being asked if you want to commit, and I managed to turn on some friends to Darkside for this reason — quickfire fun without being urged to ‘upgrade now!’ for additional weapons and being left with only a rudimentary arsenal to play the game. Perhaps this was the aspect I enjoyed most.
In the end, Darkside may not turn the App Store on its head, but it’s simple, good-looking, and proper fun, whether you give into paying or not. And sometimes, that’s all you really need. Darkside doesn’t innovate, but it does the genre some good.