Updated: Red Nova Review

Mercy, the brand new second episode of the fast-paced space shooter Red Nova, adds an entirely new, and much welcome, dimension to the game. Instead of simply fighting for your own survival by destroying waves and waves of enemies, you’re now fighting to save others as well.

An alien mothership has disabled all of the ships around you, except of course for the titular Red Nova, and you’ll need to ferry passengers back and forth between the marooned ships and the safety of the Nova. To do this you simply fly up to a ship and slow down. Gradually the passengers will come aboard and once you’re full you’ll need to head back to the Red Nova to drop them off safely.

As you’re making your trek from ship to ship, the mothership releases fighters that will not only attack you, but the defenseless ships as well. This turns the game from a simple, but clever, survival game into a tense back-and-forth where you constantly have to worry about saving somebody somewhere else. There’s also quite a bit more strategy as you have to determine which passengers to save first in order to have the best chances of survival.

It’s a great update that adds an entirely new style of play to the game, and you can even use the new cargo ship in the first episode. The unique controls remain somewhat hit-or-miss, but with this second episode Red Nova has become a much more enticing and fleshed out package.

Space themed shooters are quite possibly the most ubiquitous type of iOS game. There’s just so damn many of them. Obviously, this makes it difficult to make a new game stand out. Red Nova attempts to make a name for itself with an interesting control scheme that tweaks the traditional twin-stick formula quite a bit. It doesn’t always work that well, but it at least makes Red Nova worth consideration for shooter fans.

Surprisingly, Red Nova actually features a bit of story that suits the game perfectly. When an alien force starts attacking a fleet of human ships, it’s up to you to hold them off until everyone else can make it to safety. By yourself. It may not be particularly deep, but the story at least explains why one lone ship is stuck battling wave after wave of enemies.

Aren’t they just the cutest little spaceships?

And that’s exactly what you’ll be doing in Red Nova. The goal is to last as long as possible, taking out as many enemies as you can along the way. You can choose from a few different ships to pilot, each of which has its own specific characteristics. Some are faster, some have stronger shields or a faster rate of fire. You’ll be taking on a number of different enemies, which range from drones that have no actual weapons to powerful ships that fire explosive missiles.

Red Nova controls much like a twin-stick shooter, but with a few important differences. There’s a virtual joystick in the lower left portion of the screen, which controls your movement but also your direction of fire. The lower right portion of the screen, meanwhile, lets you fire your main weapon by holding down your thumb and homing missiles by sliding it to the left. After some practice the control scheme works pretty well, though it never quite feels completely comfortable. Controlling both your ship and direction of fire with one stick just doesn’t feel natural.

Pew pew pew pew’¦ pew.

To add some strategy to the mix, your ship has an energy meter. Your energy depletes as you fire missiles, but you earn more as you defeat enemies. You’ll also pick up power-ups long the way, such as bombs or health packs, which you can choose to either use or sacrifice to boost your energy meter. This provides a nice risk/ reward scenario as you can decide whether to eschew some additional health for some much needed missiles, or vice versa. You can also use the energy to refill your health meter, though this frequently doesn’t work properly, rendering it a largely useless feature. Since the action moves so fast in the game there’s really no time to mess around with boosting your shields when it may not actually work.

And Red Nova is fast. Ships move quickly, though the action never gets choppy. Even with a large number of ships on screen the game is fast and smooth. But it seems that in the process of making the game silky smooth, the developer has sacrificed some detail. The ships are all rather simple and uninspired looking. Thankfully, the camera is zoomed out quite a bit, so it’s not a huge deal.

We have to give Red Nova points for trying, even if it doesn’t always succeed. The controls are different from the norm, though not always comfortable, and the energy system adds a layer of strategy not often found in this type of game. This amounts to a slightly original, though not entirely satisfying, shooter experience aided quite a bit by the inclusion of Game Center leaderboards– though, curiously, there are no achievements. If you can tolerate yet another space shooter, Red Nova at least brings something new to the genre. Though it might not be enough.

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