The makers of Magnetar: Space Fighter, Gameprom, weren’t kidding when the company stated this game “breathed new life into the good old genre of space scroller.” For a genre whose origins go as far back as the days of Atari à la Space Invaders, one would think the demand for shoot ‘em up games have ceased—especially considering the more complex and sophisticated tastes of modern day gamers. However, Magnetar: Space Fighter is an entertaining and visually-intense game that manages to have a contemporary feel.
For one thing, it’s hard as hell. This is not a casual title that you’ll be able to breeze through. Although the total number of downloads is unknown, a measly 1,722 players have finished the game on Easy (as of 02/07/2011)… while only 35 have finished the game on Hard.
This game has all the elements you would expect from a space shooter based on the iOS platform. Although your ship will always move forward against the background, you control the ship’s movements by tilting your phone forward, backward, and side-to-side. This is necessary to dodge the bajillion enemies firing at you (okay, they’re actually 20 different types of ships, missiles, and other “hostile targets,” but it feels like a bajillion).
To fight back, your spaceship is constantly shooting out small laser bullets that can be upgraded along the way. Upgrades can vary from more powerful types of ammo, to faster shooting rates, to a wider spray range. You can also press the left button and deploy five on-target missiles, while the right button launches a straight laser beam. Using these two types of ammo takes up a lot of energy, so if you use either buttons, you’ll see your blue energy bar drain in the top left corner. Fortunately, you just need to wait a few moments for your energy bar to refill itself in small increments. Unfortuantely, your health bar decreases when you take hits and cannot refill. When your health bar is low, your only hope is to run into a health upgrade icon along the way.
If you die before a level is complete, you will fail your mission and start the level over again. The game has five colorful worlds, each with four levels, and a big boss at the end of the last level. My biggest complaint with Magnetar is its poor save mechanism on the mobile platform. When I failed and then closed my game during, for example, the third level of one world, I had to start all over from the first level of that world. The game only saves your progress by worlds, not levels. If you don’t want to find yourself repeating levels, you’re trapped into finishing a world in one session.
Aside from that, Magnetar has a lot of other things to offer; so much so that it can be a bit overwhelming. The graphics and colors are vibrant, and although I understand how the trance music in the background lends itself to the futuristic vibe of the game, I muted the game more often than not. Overall however, it is a challenging and entertaining escape that you’ll keep coming back to. And if you manage to join the 35 other elite players who finished on hard, remember to tell me how it’s done.
[Lynn La is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]