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Apr 06 2011

Review of Mini Squadron

Up on the block today we have something a little more quaint than we’ve been reviewing recently, a PSN Mini appropriately called Mini Squadron. Already a successful title on iOS and Android devices, this game was recently ported to the PSN as a Mini for the affordable price of only two bucks. Now we don’t usually talk about games of this size anymore but this particular title grabbed my attention far better than I would have expected and it only seemed right to do a review. So sit back and I’ll tell you why this cheapo little 2D plane game stole way more of my time than I expected it would.

When you have a lot of planes on screen things can get nice and hectic.

This is going to be a short review because this is a super simple game; no story to worry about, no attempts at fancy top-tier graphics to make me bitch, just planes blowing each other out of the sky. What you do from start to finish in this game is fly around in a large 2D “arena” style level and shoot waves of enemy planes down; it’s an elementary goal but it makes for mindless fun. The game plays like a simplified version of Altitude (the 2D multi player plane fighting game on the PC) but entirely single player. Honestly there isn’t really anything terribly unique to say about the gameplay;, there are power-ups, there are lives, there is score, nothing here is all that special but it all works really well.

Flying pitchfork...AWAAAAY!

What makes this game truly addictive though is the ridiculous amount of variety the game offers with its planes, all of which play a little differently. In fact there are a total of 58 unlockable planes which vary in design from basic WW2 era fighter plane to ridiculously designed (and not at all aerodynamic) monstrosities. Every plane flies a little differently too making it so that certain planes pander to certain play styles. Different planes have different weapons, speeds, armor levels, even dive rates meaning you can find a plane that suits you in particular. Want to be the lithe fast sky pirate? They have a plane for you. Want to be a heavily armored bomb dropping flying tank? They still have you covered. Want to be a flying pitchfork? Well you’re clinically insane but they still somehow read your broken mind and have it gassed up and on the runway. Best part of it all is that you slowly get to unlock every plane giving you a reason to actually play the game for than five minutes; some may prefer to have that stuff unlocked from the get go but I like having those sorts of things as a reward and motivation for playing.

I'm pretty sure the song for this level was Moonlight Sonata because if you're going to do something you might as well be on the nose about it.

Another place where there is a decent variety is in the presentation, the game sports a number of levels each with a different look and song. One of the things I really like about this game is that all its music is relaxing classical pieces; an odd choice to be sure but it makes this small game quaint and charming. While a lot of the pieces chosen seem a little off for a game about planes shooting each other down (the Fur Elise, really?) it generally creates a very relaxing atmosphere and makes zoning out and making planes fight a surprisingly therapeutic experience. What really makes it for me though is that all that classical music is offset some by some really great 8-bit era sound effects; if there are two things that relax me its soft piano and chirpy fanfare.

There a few things more exhilarating in this game than breaking out of a nose dive and skimming low to the ground for a few seconds.

Last but not least I want to talk a little about the controls, the big reason I stay away from games like this on their native platforms is because touchscreen controls and me never really gelled, so I’m always curious how those games translate to a traditional control scheme. Thankfully this game takes to an analog stick like a duck to water and I found the level of control in this game to be fantastic. Planes always seem to fly how you want them to and while some will be faster or slower than others the general degree of precision throughout the game remains buttery smooth. While I didn’t play the game on the PSP so I can’t tell you how it controls with the infamous thumb nub I can say the control with the PS3 analog stick works like a dream. I was able pull out last-minute from nose dives, fly cleanly between tightly packed enemy planes trying to trap me, and literally fly circles around the other planes; put simply this game is a joy to control on the PS3.

This game is small and well-defined and for its price tag of only two bucks I think it’s a perfect purchase. If this game was anymore than it was it’d be a different story but as a product that costs only a hair more than your average cop of joe I can’t help but recommend it. For a quiet but fun distraction from the “real” games I have to play Mini Squadron gets a 5 out of 5; it may be drop dead simple but for the price that’s just fine by me.

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