Retro – Cave Flyer (PlayStation Minis) Review – More Floater than Flyer

Retro – Cave Flyer is the second of Big Head Games’ iPhone games to be ported across as a mini, with last week’s The Terminator being the first. The two couldn’t be more different though, with Retro reminding me a lot of Halfbrick’s Blast Off. Although it has its limitations, it’s a challenging little game that takes a fair degree of skill and practice to master.

The game is set in the near future, with the sun about to go supernova after being de-stabilized by pesky meddling scientists. Earth is being evacuated, but there are lots of stranded scientists who still need rescuing from science stations carved into moons throughout the solar system.

It’s therefore up to you to float and thrust your way around the moon caves in your spherical spaceship, landing and picking up scientists and taking them back to the mothership. As you navigate the narrow passageways and twists and turns of the rocky caverns, you must take care not to bash your ship about too much or you’ll damage the shield, and you must also remember to refuel at the green fuel points.

Controlling the ship is actually quite hard, as you’re dealing with the effects of gravitational pull. Press L to rotate the ship left and R to rotate right; left and right on the directional buttons and on the analog stick do the same thing.  Press X to burn the thrusters and propel the ship forward.

As with Blast Off, you don’t so much steer your ship around as work with the gravitational pull to float towards your objectives, occasionally turning on the thrusters when gravity takes you too near to the rocky cave walls. The challenge is all about learning how to carefully maneuver your ship using the gentlest of touches.

After you’ve rescued the required number of scientists, you’re taken to the de-briefing screen where you can view various stats, such as how many scientists you saved, how much fuel you had left, and what percentage of your shield was still intact at the end of the level, all of which have a bearing on your score.

There are three difficulty levels, Easy, Normal, and Hard, and you’ll notice a big difference between Easy and the other two settings.  On Normal and Hard, it’s very easy to damage the ship’s Shield, and if you’re not very, very careful and adroit at guiding the ship, especially in the later levels where there’s very little room to maneuver in the caves, you’ll be seeing the words “Mission Failed” far too often.

Other Options that you can tinker with include Physics (Mix, Floaty, Heavy), and Ship Rotate (Slow, Fast). Although Floaty is set as the default Physics option, you might find Heavy a bit easier at first as it seems to make the ship respond quicker when you try and rotate it. It’s up to you to experiment and see what suits your style of gameplay.

There are 12 missions in total, which is not that many (the iPhone game had 23), all of which are locked except the first. [CORRECTION: there are actually 23 levels in total, just like the iPhone game, with 11 more unlocked on level 12. ] If you start on Easy Mode you’ll be able to zip through and unlock them all reasonably quickly and then go back and try them on the harder settings once you’re familiar with the layout.

In terms of overall presentation, it’s all pretty simple. The backgrounds are gorgeous, with the blazing red super-nova sun looming over every stage, but there’s not much variety from level to level, with the main differences being between the different types of rocks that form the caves on each moon.

That said, around halfway through the game you’ll find several obstacles placed in your way, such as red lasers that can damage your ship, blue laser force fields that you can disable by flying over nearby switches, and warp holes that take you to different parts of the level.

The futuristic music, menus, and cute robotic voice-overs all work really well and fit in with the general style of the game, but even they can’t really help to lift it from good to great. It’s certainly enjoyable to play, but it didn’t have me punching my fist in the air or jumping up and down with excitement. Diverting for a couple of days, probably, but not compelling enough to keep you returning for more after that.

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