After feedback from players, RetroFlux’s arcade-style shoot’em up (SHMUP) Ultrablast, made for iOS platforms, has received a new upgrade in the form of Ultrablast Special Edition . The new game app is a separate, free download from Ultrablast or UltrablastLight , and features several changes designed to improve and enhance gameplay. While many of the improvements are subtle, RetroFlux is moving in the right direction to improve its story-based shooter.
Players who have not played Ultrablast or Ultrablast Light will not find a significant difference from the other versions of the game. Stages, story, and sound, as well as basic gameplay, remain the same.
In Ultrablast , players control a ship on a vertical automatic-scrolling stage. Comparable to many arcade shmups like Galaga , the ship is able to be guided along the screen in any direction, but cannot advance or go back on the stage. Two weapon types are available, each with three upgrades, as are several types of power-ups. Weapons fire automatically, while powers have to be activated; a combination of the use of these weapons and skills, plus dexterity, will allow the player to defeat enemies that approach them to earn score, as well as defeat the boss of each stage to progress to the next.
Ultrablast also features an in-game encyclopedia called the “Dataflux,” which records information about enemies, weapons, and other characters and RPG elements in the game, as well as connectivity to OpenFeint’s gaming network.
A Little Shinier: New Menu and Retina Display Support
The first thing noticeable about Ultrablast Special Edition is the new menu. While many of the same features remain, some have moved, and a new feature has been added. The Dataflux is now found under the stage select screen found when pressing “Start,” rather than being on the home menu and “Options” is now “System.” A new option, “Community,” has been added. The Community is a new way to interact with other players by posting messages on a simple board supported by Playhaven, and while it does not have threaded discussion support, should offer new ways for players to communicate and connect.
The new version of the game also features a graphics update that adds retina display support. Apple describes this graphics mode, available only on the iPhone 4, as having increased pixel density and a wider viewing angle. While players not on a device with retina display will not notice a difference in the graphics resolution, those who are will notice that the graphics are more clear with increased readability.
No More Drawing
Many of the community complaints about Ultrablast ‘s gameplay revolved around its power-activation method. Each power had a simple shape that represented it, such as a circle or diamond. In order to activate a power, players were required to draw that shape on the upper portion of the screen. Unfortunately, the limited control options available for a shmup on a iOS device, along with the accuracy required to draw these symbols, meant that activating powers was difficult regardless of control settings.
Ultrablast Special Edition now features one-touch power activation instead of this symbol-drawing system. Powers collected will store as small symbols in the HUD, as before, but may now simply be activated by tapping on them. This is a significant improvement over the original Ultrablast gameplay; however, the icons are so small that players with smaller-screened devices will find it difficult to activate the desired power.
Though developer notes also boast that the new edition of the game features “enhancement to controls,” no significant difference could be found with any of the control options between Ultrablast and Ultrablast Special Edition . This is disappointing, given that the Joystick mode in particular is cumbersome and unresponsive. All three control methods also showed a somewhat high degree of required accuracy on the screen, making it difficult for players on smaller devices or with “large fingers” to maneuver precisely or select weapons and power-ups.
New Ways to Pay
Interestingly, Ultrablast Special Edition features a new price-point model. Previously, the game offered the first stage for free through Ultrablast Light , while the full game was purchasable as Ultrablast for $2.99. Ultrablast Special Edition , instead, offers the first level for free, with the second, third, and fourth and fifth stages (the last two being bundled together) offered at $0.99 each, bringing SpecialEdition ‘s price point to $2.97.
While the ability to decide to pay for each stage as a player wishes to unlock it is novel, this price remains for players who already own Ultrablast , which features identical content. This means that players who enjoy the new features and would like to play them now must pay twice for the game. RetroFlux indicates that the features in the new edition will eventually be implemented in the original, and that the money spent will be “recycled” into new games, and returned back to the player for “a small fee.” Given the minor nature of the updates, it is recommended that players who already own Ultrablast simply wait for the original version of the game to be updated.
A Shot in the Right Direction
The improvements implemented in Ultrablast Special Edition are significant enough to earn some praise for RetroFlux’s attention to player feedback. The most marked improvement in the game is the one-touch power-activation, which players on any control setting or difficulty will find eases gameplay without reducing the game’s difficulty or uniqueness. Despite the small improvements, Ultrablast still needs adjustments to the game’s touch controls to polish gameplay for all iOS devices. The price point is also questionable given the edition’s eventual implementation in the original version of the game. Given more improvements and proper implementation into Ultrablast , Special Edition is certainly a welcome addition to this well-designed shoot’em up.