Review: MiniSquadron (Xbox Live)
Taking to the skies, with incredibly slim odds of success, can you battle through waves and waves of enemy aircraft over your island, unlock more powerful aircraft to defend your home, and take out the occasional flying saucer while you're at it? That's what MiniSquadron asks you to do in the latest Xbox Live title to be reviewed at AAWP.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
Essentially, you are Faith, Hope, Charity and the rest of Maltese air force. And there's nothing wrong with this, it's an arcade game, and you would expect in any decent arcade game that a single hero aircraft (you) can take on countless enemy aircraft over multiple waves and still make it to the end of the level.
Yes, it's that kind of game, and thankfully the designers of MiniSquadron know it. This is an interesting fusion of aircraft combat with side scrolling arcade shooter. You have complete freedom of movement in the vertical plane of movement to climb and dive, while you can fly to the left or right in the horizontal plane depending on your flight direction.
There's a tiny nod to aerodynamics as well - you'll build up speed in a dive, and if you keep climbing too much, you run out of speed and will stall the aircraft and need to take correcting action to recover before you slam into the ground.
I'm also happy with what the programmers have done to make a good set of touch-screen based controls work well in an arcade game. Running in landscape mode, you have a virtual button on the right of the screen, acting as the fire button, while the left of the screen is a virtual joystick. You slide this with your left thumb, and your plane will turn and fly in that direction. It's a pretty accurate control system, and is incredibly granular.
It allows you to make tight turns with your aircraft, wider and more lazy turns to get into position, or long shallow dives to build up speed and focus firepower on one enemy aircraft. There's no issue with the controls hampering your manoeuvrability.
But a lot of how fast you fly, turn, and fire is not down to the control interface, but which aircraft you decide to fly. You start with one choice, but as you play through the various levels and waves of enemies, you bring new plane designs to your squadron. They all have different straight line and diving speeds, turning circles, armour and weaponry. What's brilliant is that these aren't abstract numbers, they actually do have a noticeable effect on how you fly and fight. Over time you'll want to gather them all, but will likely stick with a favourite aircraft that works for you, and that might not be the numerically best aircraft.
Let's not overlook the main point. MiniSquadron is fun to play. The graphics are clear, even with a wave of twenty aircraft trying to take you out it's clear what is going on; it has depth and you have to think about where and how to fly to cause the most damage while protecting your aircraft - there's no simple mashing the fire button and staying out of the way here; there's a difficulty curve which is gradual, but keeps the challenge constant as you work through the game...
With two styles of play, you can go for a level-based approach, unlocking new areas of the island as you defeat the attacking waves, or you can go for survival, which although continuing to present you with distinct waves of enemy aircraft, will never actually reach an end. There's no real difference in how you play these styles, but you'll want to play through the levels first to open up all the areas, and then focus on gaining your Xbox Live achievement in the survival style.
MinSquadron is a good game. Admittedly, it never really scales the heights or becomes a must have game for every Windows Phone user, but there's nothing inherently wrong - it does a lot of things right, and I keep getting drawn back to it. That's not the case with some Xbox Live games.
You do need to be a fan of arcade games to get the most out of this title, and be happy to play it in short bursts as opposed to a long single sitting because of the repetitive nature, but I would recommend MiniSquadron to gamers with twitchy fingers - it scratches the shoot-em up itch nicely.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at