Ion Assault Xbox 360 Review

May 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Ion Assault first hit Xbox Live Arcade late last summer, and its twin-stick shooting style was a welcome addition to the catalogue of downloadable games. However, based on player feedback developer Coreplay has now released an update for the game, and it’s this updated version that is reviewed here for the first time.

A helpful tutorial introduces the player to the basics of the game, the familiar twin-stick method of control giving left stick for movement and right stick to aim (originally the right stick was rotated to aim, but this was one of the changes suggested for the update). However, Ion Assault’s shooting is done a little differently. The player’s ship must first harvest ions (floating particles) from space by holding the left trigger, before releasing them in a damaging pulse. The trick is to gather sufficient particles to cause damage to the asteroids that make up the main enemies, destroying them piece by piece until they are gone. The swirling particles also give a slight shielding effect to the ship, a trick that can be mastered to improve your play. Various types of enemy also populate the bordered stages and must also be destroyed or avoided. These home in on the player, fire shots and generally cause a nuisance.

Defeated asteroids and enemies leave behind score orbs. The more that are collected, the higher the multiplier and score bonus. Fail to pick up more orbs to continue the bonus and it resets to zero, awarding the points gained so far. Also left behind by certain enemies are the power-ups, which are of two main types. Passive power-ups come into effect immediately and last a short while. These include a Power Shield and Chrono-stasis, a handy tool that briefly freezes all the enemies onscreen. Active power-ups are launched by pressing the right trigger and swapped between with the bumpers; these include the Seeker Drones and Vortex Grenades.

For a solo player, there are two main games. The original Campaign mode is split into four sectors (Echelon Territory, Solaris Spacedump, M1 Crab Nebula, Tombs of Tau Ceti), with each having five stages and a boss level. Once a sector is unlocked, a player can start a new game there. The background colours and enemies change as the sector progresses to give a little variety. Each boss will also require some careful strategy to overcome it.

The newly added Survival mode changes the mechanics slightly, with the player able to fire constantly without gathering ions. Here the aim is to keep the multiplier high by continually destroying enemies. There are separate online Leaderboards for both modes, and 200 Gamerpoints to be earned through a dozen different Achievements.

Multiplayer is catered for both locally and online. The Campaign can be played co-operatively locally, with an Achievement for completing the levels together, but the Versus mode is different. Here up to four players – either on Live or on the same machine – have to defend their own base, calling in friendly ships to launch an offensive of their own. Each player launches the ships to attack, pressing the bumpers to drop a “beacon” that steers the wave around the onscreen obstacles. At the same time enemy ships are attacking and can be destroyed with the beam, but this is slow to recharge. It is a nice addition to the game with a different feel to it, becoming frantic with four players.

The whole game is well put together, with a straightforward menu system. The background music with its hints of Jarre and electronica suits the game well. Graphically it is not demanding but works well. The flowing particles and glowing explosions light up the screen, and while there are not many enemy types they are all quite distinctive. The screen can become crowded but never over-complicated, with dust “trails” acting as clues to where enemies are. The control method holds up to the challenge, although it does require a fair level of dexterity to progress to the higher scores.

It would be easy to be sceptical and view Ion Assault as little more than a cross between Geometry Wars and Asteroids, but there are some good ideas. The single player campaign is perhaps too brief, but the new Survival mode and online Versus play will draw you back now and then. Ion Assault ends up as a satisfying snack rather than a filling meal, to be enjoyed between helpings of more substantial games.