Shoot ’em ups, or “shmups,” are a staple in the history of videogames. From their early 8-bit origins to the more recent flashy predecessors, the top-down shooter has persisted thanks to its simple design and quick action. HotField employs 3D effects, anime stylings and intense bullet dodging that hearkens back to the second shmup renaissance of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Even though it is a port of a PC title, it will feel very familiar to anyone who has spent some time in arcades or was a fan of consoles like the Sega Saturn. HotField has all the makings of a fun title, but it is hamstrung by some technical issues. It’s in need of an update to attain its full potential.
HotField gives you three futuristic ships to choose from, each with slight variations on their look and their attack patterns. The game consists of seven nicely varied levels with different bosses and enemies to challenge you along the way. In addition to your standard cannon (which can be upgraded by picking up power ups) you also have the ability to fire a super laser or slow down time.
The super laser is a devastating beam of energy that cuts a wide swath of the screen, destroying enemy projectiles and doing massive damage to any enemy it touches. By deploying your time-manipulating ability, you can slow everything down on screen, allowing you to make precise maneuvers and escape tight situations. Both of these abilities are limited and must be carefully rationed to get through a level. You can absorb a number of hits before you die (as indicated by a health bar), but you only have seven lives with which to complete the game. You choose from easy, normal, or hard difficulties, though in reality these should be called hard, harder, and near-impossible.
HotField had to make some control changes to fit the iPhone’s touch screen, and for the most part, they work quite well. Your ship fires constantly, allowing you to focus on using your finger to guide your ship and dodge enemy fire. You deploy your super cannon by touching the screen with a second finger, and activate your time-slowing ability by double-tapping the screen. These mechanics don’t take too much time to get used to. The biggest control issue is that there are sequences in the game where enemies and projectiles come from behind your ship, which puts them squarely behind your thumb or finger. Though this happens only occasionally, it can be a nuisance, and it’s evidence that the levels were not tweaked to fit this control scheme by keeping the action in front of you. Hotfield also has a horizontal play mode that adds a directional pad and touch buttons instead of the follow your finger control. While this scheme works fine, it cuts the screen size substantially and does not play any better than the regular mode, in our opinion.
HotField’s music and graphics are one of its stronger suits. It mixes 3D models and effects with 2D gameplay to make for good-looking, multi-layered levels. Unfortunately, juggling all of the effects and action on screen comes at a price. The game’s framerate is not great, and while it is usually just good enough to get the job done, there are times when it dips down to levels that really start to detract from the gameplay. We would venture a guess that the framerate problems are probably more indicative of a rushed port than the iPhone hardware’s inability to keep up.
Ultimately, HotField plays like a game that still needs a little more adaptation to the iPhone platform. The control modifications and core gameplay are solid, which makes it all the more frustrating that an equal amount of time was not spent getting it to run well. As fans of the classic “bullet hell” style action that HotField provides, we still enjoyed enjoyed ourselves, despite the game’s rough edges. However, it is still a few meaningful updates away from keeping up with other games built for the iPhone from the ground up.