Japanese developer Kenta Cho has developed a reputation for distillation. Not of the alcohol kind, but rather, for taking the essence of the shmup—the shoot ‘em up—and distilling it to purity by replacing all of the eye candy in the average shooter with abstract geometric shapes and objects. It also helps that Cho’s games are free. His work is a favorite of “old school” gamers and others who love unusual-looking games. And his work—originating on Windows—has been translated to other platforms, including Mac OS X. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that it’s ended up on the iPhone and iPod touch, in the form of rRootage thanks to the efforts of Lazrhog Games.
If you’ve ever played a top-down shmup, you’ll largely know what to expect from rRootage. You control a spacecraft that appears at the bottom of the screen, and you have to destroy a boss ship which appears at the top. The boss ships, wild shapes of varying geometries, pour fiery hell from their weapons ports—within seconds of starting rRootage, you’ll be bombarded with a visual cacophony of color.
You control your ship by moving your finger from side to side, carefully trying to avoid the wild cascades of enemy fire. Your ship will automatically fire, so your primary job is to stay out of the line of fire while knocking down the enemy’s defenses. A bar at the top of the screen shows how much further you have to go before the enemy dies; when it happens, the bad guy dissolves into a pretty fireworks display.
The game features four different modes of gameplay, each with 40 stages to complete, and five levels in each stage. So there’s a lot of challenge to rRootage. And unlike many of the other arcade-style games available for the iPhone, there really is a big difference in modes.
Normal Mode is the standard game mode, and it makes you focus on avoiding the boss’ barrage while attempting to destroy it with your laser. You have a special function at your ability that’s activated by using multi-touch—a smart bomb that destroys any bullet within a radius around your ship. Psy mode—inspired by a Japanese arcade game series called Psyvariar—introduces the concept of “scratching” or “bullet grazing.” When your ship grazes a bullet, a gauge at the bottom of the screen builds up; when it’s full, you have temporary invincibility. The special mode builds up a shield that lets you quickly rebuild your defenses. Ika mode—inspired by one of my very favorite shmups for the Sega Dreamcast game console called Ikaruga—lets you absorb bullets that are the same color as your shield. Other colored bullets will wear the shield down. And in that game mode, your special ability changes the color of the absorbed bullets from blue to red and back again. And, finally, GW mode, which shmup enthusiasts should recognize as inspired by the Gigawing series, has you charge up your shield by keeping a second finger on the screen.
rRootage is a clean conversion of the same game I’ve played on the Mac countless times over the years, and while it’s nichey and I don’t expect that a large swath of iPhone users will find it appealing, it’s one of those hallmark games that having on your iPhone or iPod touch definitely puts you in a rarified class of gamer.
The only complaints that I have—and they’re really minor quibbles—is that the game’s built-in help section has some awkward and misspelled English and that the game will slow down in really big firefights. But that’s more of a limitation of the iPhone, and quite frankly, when it happens, you’ll be amazed at just how many objects are moving on the screen at once. It’s a little scary, just how powerful the iPhone is.
rRootage is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.
[Senior editor Peter Cohen covers games for Macworld’s Game Room.]