From a pet simulator to a micro-game collection and now a shoot ‘˜em up, Tactile Entertainment definitely doesn’t shy away from trying new genres. And while Front Runner doesn’t do a whole lot new in the crowded shmup space, it’s solidly crafted and absolutely charming.
You can think of Front Runner as a one button shmup. You control your ship’s movement and attack by simply moving it around. As long as your finger is on the ship, it’ll keep firing. This simplified control scheme streamlines the game, allowing you to focus on movement without having to worry about firing. The controls are a little sluggish though, which becomes especially annoying in the later stages when you’re faced with a screen full of enemies and bullet fire.
Astronomers have confirmed that this is what space looks like.
The main mode is a story mode, and it’s divided into three chapters, each of which consists of seven stages. The stages are all quite short, making them perfect for quick bites of action. Each chapter ends with a boss battle that ups the difficulty quite a bit.
As you defeat enemies they will drop musical notes that you can collect. These notes serve as the game’s currency, allowing you to upgrade your ship as you progress. You can beef up your shields, make your weapons more powerful, and even increase your speed. And as you defeat bosses, you’ll gain access to their weapons as well, which can also be upgraded. Soon enough you’ll have a ship that shoots missiles, fires from multiple directions, and sends out destructive bursts of electricity.
What’s great about this structure is that even if you get stuck and keep dying on a particular stage, you get to keep the notes you collect. So the next time you play the stage your ship will be more powerful, giving you a better shot at victory. It’s just too bad that the story mode is so short. Making up for this, though, is a survival mode that tasks you with fighting as long as you can without dying. It’s incredibly addictive and adds a lot of replayability to the game.
Some of these monsters are crybabies.
So the gameplay is solid, if not particularly original, but what helps separate Front Runner from the glut of shooters in the App Store is its sense of style. The sci-fi setting has a claymation look to it, full of anthropomorphic enemies to fight. Everything in the game has eyes, even your diminutive space ship, making it feel like you’re playing in a cartoon world.
In fact, throughout each chapter you’ll be constantly taunted by the upcoming boss, who will fly by and stick its tongue out at you. It’s a playful atmosphere that will constantly put a smile on your face. The only real problem is when the screen gets too full the action stutters a bit. It’s never enough to render the game unplayable, but it happens frequently enough to be annoying.
Front Runner isn’t a hardcore, bullet hell style shooter. This is a shmup for the rest of us, the ones without freakishly quick reflexes. It’s challenging without being too difficult, and the the ability to regularly improve your ship adds a great deal of depth to the experience. It may be a bit on the short side, but this is a fun and charming shooter that’s a perfect fit for a mobile device.