Finding a modern take on wave-based shoot ‘em ups is surprisingly difficult, particularly if you want something with a classic style to satiate your need for destruction, rather than the madness of a bullet hell game such as Dodonpachi Maximum. Plasma Sky for iOS is a welcome release, as while it does pay homage to the bullet hell genre occasionally, it’s more reminiscent of space shooters such as Xenon II, with hints of R-Type and Gunhed thrown in. It’s also proof games don’t need an abundance of flashy graphics to be enjoyable.
As with most shooters there’s no plot to Plasma Sky, not even a token one with weirdly named aliens attacking the Earth and you’re the world’s last hope. If there was a story though, this would be it, as you’re fighting off invading hordes of aliens over 80 levels. Unlike say, Battle Squadron, these levels are short and consist of a primary and sometimes, a secondary wave of enemies only. With those destroyed, it’s onto the next level, and the transition is marked by the level number flashing up at the top of the screen.
Don’t imagine this means Plasma Sky will be over in five minutes, as it’s not the easiest game out there, and you’ll need plenty of practice to make it past the early twenties on a single life. It’s not a huge problem if you can’t though, as you have continues at the ready to bring you back into the game. However, you’re dropped back in with your basic weapon, and it’s no match for the tougher baddies found later on. It’s an old-school tactic and you’ll inevitably die more often after your initial life has been lost, hence the incentive to keep going as long as possible from the start.
Weapon upgrades are dropped after you’ve destroyed particular enemies, and while some are permanent others have a very strict time limit attached. This brings in a small element of strategy, as it’s all too easy to grab a power-up just as the wave ends, only for it to run out just as the next one starts. Time it right and you’ll get the most from it. Upgrades vary from multi shot blasters and an outrider, to shields and a smart bomb.
The control method is simple, as your ship auto fires its weapon, leaving you free to manoeuvre it around the screen. This is done one of two ways: touch or tilt. They’re both good, which makes a change, but they’re also both slightly flawed so it’ll be down to giving them both a try before settling on the one which suits you best.
The touch system’s sensitivity feels a little odd, as often your ship ends up somewhere slightly different that you expected, and it seems the speed varies a little too much when you move your finger rapidly. This is alleviated slightly by turning the sensitivity down from High to Normal. As for the tilt option, it’s accurate, but requires holding your phone at too much of an angle for extended play, and I couldn’t find a calibrate option to change this.
Graphically, Plasma Sky is quite simple, as you’re flying through a moody, cloudy sky and not over sprawling cities, and while your ship and the enemy all look excellent, they’re not over-the-top, fully animated nasties. It doesn’t matter though, as the neon-bright laser fire, super-smooth scrolling and subtle additions (the trail left by your ship when you move for example) make Plasma Sky a visually striking game, without the need to add any garnish. Special mention should also be made about the music, which is a cracking, catchy shoot ‘em up tune you’ll be humming after the game is over.
Plasma Sky doesn’t do anything new or different, but it incorporates all the usual features one expects from a space shooter, and does them all very well indeed. It’s addictive to play, a proper challenge, and is paced well enough to allow a quick game when you have a few moments. Plus, it’s utterly devoid of in-app purchases, has a leaderboard for high scores and is compatible with both the iPhone and the iPad. Plasma Sky is priced at £1.49 and comes highly recommended.