iPhone/iPad App Review: Dodonpachi Maximum

Japanese games studio Cave Interactive has released Dodonpachi Maximum for the iPhone and iPad, after the game spent a short while as a Windows Phone 7 exclusive. To make the release more special, it has been given a visual polish, had the synthesized voices altered, the soundtrack remixed and been optimised for the larger screen of the iPhone 5.

For those who aren’t familiar with Cave’s previous titles, the studio is known for its challenging “bullet hell” games, of which we’ve previously reviewed Espgaluda II, when we put it up against the newly released Danmaku Unlimited. Bullet Hell games are classified as shooters, in that you spend the entire game shooting at something, but the real skill comes in evading the often overwhelming waves of enemy fire.

Although your ship looks quite large in the screenshots, and therefore impossible to thread through the streams of laser fire, the only bit you have to worry about is the glowing green spot near the centre.

You control your ship using your finger – there’s no tilt option here, as it’s nowhere near precise enough – and must navigate through the hail of bullets, while still taking out the enemy craft doing the shooting.

What makes Dodonpachi Maximum different to games such as Dodonpachi Resurrection and the aforementioned Espgaluda II, is that it’s designed to be played by gamers who’ve never tried a Bullet Hell game before. When you begin, you’re asked to switch on Easy Mode, where although the game is still quite hard, is nowhere near as difficult as it is in Normal mode.

In Easy Mode, enemy fire is slower moving, less dense and more predictable. If you’ve played shoot ‘em ups before, you won’t find it too hard until the final stage, level 5. Here, the mid-stage and the end of level bosses are extremely tough, but pass them and you’re probably ready for a crack at Normal mode.

I say probably, as really, it doesn’t prepare you for the onslaught you face in the regular game. By the time you hit the fifth stage, there is an insane amount of enemy fire, and you’ll need the reflexes of a particularly alert cat to avoid them without losing a life. You’ve got two of these, and thankfully they’re replenished at the end of each stage, plus you have a super bomb at your disposal that’s charged up during the level and unleashed by tapping two fingers on the screen.

While the genre may be the same as Cave’s other games, Dodonpachi Maximum is quite different. The graphics don’t share the same hand-drawn, Manga style as Espgaluda II, and the backgrounds and enemies owe a debt to Space Invaders Infinity Gene, thanks to the use of wireframes. There’s no upgradeable weaponry either, so it never reaches the extreme levels of destruction witnessed in other Bullet Hell titles.

None of this makes it a bad though, and it’s still as heart-racing as a game of its type needs to be, however it may not be as appealing to die-hard fans of Cave’s work, or the Bullet Hell genre itself. This isn’t a surprise, as it’s clear Cave wanted Dodonpachi Maximum to be more accessible, and introduce new players to its games. It does this very well, and everyone who enjoys this will undoubtedly enjoy other Cave games too.

On the negative side, it’s a power-hungry game that not only needs the latest hardware – from the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S upwards – to run, but also eats through battery like few other games. It’s definitely not one to be played if you’re hoping to conserve a little juice. Once you start playing, you can see why it’s such a hog too, as it’s super smooth, fast and has a huge amount of sprites on screen at one time.

The other negative is the price. As with all Cave games, you need to pay for the high quality and smooth performance. It’s yours for £7.99 at the moment, which is quite high for an iOS game. The good news is that Dodonpachi Maximum is universal for the iPhone and iPad, a rarity in Cave’s world, and it plays just as well on the tablet as it does on the phone.

Ultimately, whether you think it’s worth that amount comes down to your love of the genre. Dodonpachi Maximum is an excellent example, and is immediately accessible to those who’ve never played a game like it before, and is equally challenging to those that have. For this reason alone, it’s now the default Bullet Hell game recommendation for iOS, but when judged against Cave’s catalogue, it doesn’t quite achieve the brilliance of Espgaluda II.

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