iPhone specialist publisher ngmoco has quickly made a name for itself with its boldly creative, yet meticulously constructed budget games. The price of that success is that it sets high expectations; after something like Topple, a Dr. Awesome won’t necessarily suffice. Well, Dropship blasts right through that already lofty bar on its way to the stratosphere. This is perfectly realized, white-knuckle action gaming for the iPhone, and we’re really having trouble putting it down.
Whoever designed Dropship must have burned a lot of quarters back in the day. It plays like well-mixed cocktail of many great arcade games, like Asteroids, Geometry Wars, and Lunar Lander; there’s even a hint of Oids in there, for crying out loud! You pilot a hovering dropship across a level’s surface and into meandering subterranean crevasses, rescuing stranded crew and blasting enemies along the way. The ultimate goal is to seize a glowing green pod, secreted somewhere in the level’s depths, and escape with it into space. If you slam into too many walls, take too much damage from enemy ordinance, or fail to abscond with the pod under a certain time limit, you lose.
Since you are constantly fighting the pull of gravity, as well as your own inertia, Dropship demands very delicate control–and the game’s excellent touch buttons are more than equal to the task. It uses a dual-stick shooter scheme much like Paradise, where your left thumb handles the ship’s omnidirectional thrusters and your right fires its weapons. It works marvelously well. With a bit of practice, you’ll master the short, precise thruster bursts necessary to maneuver effectively and keep you away from the walls. The default gun is a bit underpowered, but as soon as you rescue a space marine (whose names are plucked from your Contacts list, in a growing ngmoco convention), it’ll upgrade up to four times, until you get the awe-inspiring Hyper Laser. It’s easy to clean the bad guys up with the more powerful weapons, but there isn’t much variety to any of it: you point and shoot, and they die. More powerful baddies and different types of weapons, like homing missiles, could make combat a little more interesting.
But the game is really focused on piloting, not fighting, as you will see when you latch onto the pod and try to steal it. Your ship grabs hold of the pod with a short, elastic tractor beam, meaning the thing bounces and sways as you’re trying to fly around with it, forcing you to adapt your steering to the added mass–and if it hits something, you’ll lose your grip and have to backtrack for it. Meanwhile, a red countdown timer starts running, all the enemies behind you suddenly regenerate, the music picks up, and your blood pressure spikes. It’s beautiful.
Dropship’s presentation is equally gorgeous. The levels are drawn in 2D, but rendered in 3D, and as you descend into the depths, the camera tilts around, revealing your surroundings and giving you great angles for steering through tight spots. Enemies explode in a burst of particle effects and sound, just like in Geometry Wars. And there are indicators along the edge of the screen to guide you to the pod and the castaways. It’s hard to make something that looks this awesome while keeping it so functional.
We would have gladly paid $5.99 or more for a game of Dropship’s caliber. It’s currently on sale for $1.99, and ngmoco’s already putting up new levels to download for free. Do the math, and then get to the App Store ASAP. You don’t want to miss out on this game.