Retro-gaming is all the rage right now, with a huge online following, many re-releases of old favourites and even classic computers such as the Commodore 64 being reborn for a new generation to enjoy. Apple’s iOS is a popular system for developers to use in order to give their games a new lease of life, and one such title currently being converted is Battle Squadron.
Battle Squadron is a vertical shoot ‘em up released more than 20 years ago on the Commodore Amiga, which for those who don’t know, was a 16-bit home computer capable of running some amazing (for the time) games with great graphics and sound. The shoot ‘em up genre was in its heyday around the time of Battle Squadron’s release, and the game was – and still is – considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind.
The game was released by Cope-Com in 1989 as a follow-up title to Hybris, another excellent shooter for the Amiga, but Battle Squadron succeeded in not only winning critical praise and awards, but the hearts of many gamers too. Battle Squadron had everything: a brilliant two-player mode, intelligent enemy fire, upgradeable weaponry, tough but rewarding gameplay and a great soundtrack. It was an instant classic.
Fast-forward 21 years and you’ll find that Cope-Com are revisiting Battle Squadron, converting it for release on Apple’s iOS and in the near future, Android and Symbian too. However, instead of following the trend for ‘remixing’ classic titles, Cope-Com have decided to recreate Battle Squadron’s gameplay exactly as it was on the Amiga.
To succeed, all the original code has been manually rehashed, the graphics converted over and all the backgrounds and sprites reworked to make the game suitable for iOS. The project has ended up taking eight months, but the result is a game that’s identical to the original.
Playing the beta version of Battle Squadron on the iPhone is a great experience. There is one big difference between the Amiga and iOS version though: the controls. Whereas a table-top joystick was the order of the day back in 1989, today Battle Squadron makes use of the iPhone’s accelerometer for a tilt-based system. This was a bold move, as tilt controls are tough to implement well and often lack the precision needed in a fast-paced action game.
There’s no need for concern here though, as Battle Squadron has one of the best tilt control methods we’ve used. The game reacts instantly to phone movements and although your ship’s speed doesn’t vary, swooping though enemy fire becomes almost balletic once you’ve had some practice. And you’re going to need a lot of that if you’re going to master Battle Squadron!
Like many of its retro peers, Battle Squadron is a difficult game, with enemy fire coming from all directions, cloaked enemy ships to catch you out and some of the meanest homing missiles you’ll ever encounter. It’s a good thing there are four different weapons, each with three upgrade stages, and a smart-bomb at your disposal. Even when heavily armed, it takes a single enemy bullet to take you out, and when you respawn you’ll have lost a level of your weapon; making it even tougher!
When it comes down to the game’s presentation, Cope-Com have done an incredible job of bringing the Amiga version to life on a mobile phone. The graphics are superb, and the fantastic Ron Klaren soundtrack has been treated to a stereo mix, making it sound fantastic when listened to through headphones.
Even though the Battle Squadron we’ve tested is a beta version, the game feels almost release-ready. When it does eventually come out, if you’re a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, it’s an absolute must-buy.
In the Meantime…
Even though there may be a little bit of a wait for Battle Squadron to be released, the App Store can still provide some retro-shooter thrills, so if you want a game or two to tide you over between now and then, check out these games for your iPhone or iPad:
One of the all-time greats! This horizontal scrolling shooter’s conversion has received the same degree of care and attention as Battle Squadron, and it’s quite simply an exact recreation of the 80s arcade experience. That also means it’s as hard as nails, and is the perfect practice piece to prepare you for Battle Squadron’s assault!
1942: First Strike
Another vertical shooter straight from the 80s arcades to your iPhone. 1942 is a WWII-based game with some subtle but effective modern-day tweaks. There are three planes to choose from, upgradeable weaponry, massive end-of-level bosses and a choice between tilt and virtual joystick controls.
A true classic in the world of shoot-em-up arcade games, Namco have updated Galaga for the modern age but have also included the original game for comparison. If you played the stand-up machine in an 80s arcade, then you won’t recognize the remix! Detailed backgrounds, upgradeable weaponry, nasty bosses to defeat and the return of the ‘dual-fighter’ upgrade too.
In addition to those above, make sure you take a look at these retro-inspired shooters, which although don’t have the same heritage are filled with the same spirit as R-Type, Battle Squadron and the rest.
There is a sub-genre of the shoot-em-up called ‘bullet-hell’, games where weaving through elaborate bullet patterns is as important as blowing your enemies up. If you’re new to the genre, the true Japanese games can be a touch inaccessible, so give Phoenix a try. It’s bullet-hell, but without the complex backgrounds and breakneck speed of CAVE’s Espgaluda II or Dodonpachi Resurrection.
This is retro-inspired in more ways than one, as not only is the gameplay a throwback to simple shooters of the past, but it has a cool 50s alien invasion theme too. It’s easy to control with only a side-to-side tilt to master, but the missions get progressively more difficult. This indie gem has top-notch graphics, audio and design.
A hybrid shooter with elements of both bullet-hell and retro vertical scrollers of the 90s. The game’s 3D look is fantastic – if a little distracting in the heat of the moment – and the Retina Display graphics are beautifully sharp, while the gameplay is a true challenge for even the most experienced player.