Thursday, December 4, 2014

Iridion II - Thoughts

When Shin'en was considering what the sequel to Iridion 3D would be, it must have been clear from early on that their peculiar flying perspective had to be scrapped. Yet they probably didn't want to abandon their knack for making gorgeously fluid scrolling backgrounds, so they settled on an isometric perspective for Iridion II instead. The game suffers no sophomore slump compared to its idealistic sibling, featuring more levels, more weapons, infinite continues, tighter controls, better design, and a challenge mode in addition to its campaign and arcade routes. Though I do prefer Iridion 3D for purely sentimental reasons, I admit there's few better shmups you'll find on the GBA than this one.

In a way, however, that speaks largely to the GBA's lackluster library of shooters, as Gradius Galaxies is the only other one I can think of that's worth looking into. Iridion II is a good game that's marred by a few errors here and there (a constant conclusion I come to with the Iridion/Nano series as a whole). As I stated above, having a lot of levels (15!) and shot-types (6 with each being upgradable twice) do a lot to make it feel like a well-realized shmup, taking a good hour and a half to chow through. Level diversity is exceptionally strong, with some stages focusing on enemy gimmicks like proximity mines or bouncing shards of ice, while others favor static hazards like windmill-operated doors or screen-filling cruisers menacingly floating by. There's a great pool of bosses here too, many of them featuring simple—but creative—attack patterns (except for that atrocious orb that surrounds itself with barricades).

I wish I could say the same for the weapons, but the game flubs up a bit here. Iridion II is great at letting you choose between multiple abilities to upgrade, giving you a personal preference that was absent in the last game (where it was more "powerup du jour"), but one minor aspect keeps you essentially locked into using one ability per level—whenever you pick up the item that lets you upgrade a shot-type, what the game fails to tell you is that using said item on a maxed-out weapon will refill half your health. Since continuing after death is check-point based this time around (rather than being continuous), stocking up on a couple of these items is very important as they basically serve as extra lives. Therefore the best thing to do is to find the shot-type you think does the most damage and just stick to that; they all do relatively the same amount, so you at least have some flexibility in your choosing.

The only thing I can think of that Iridion 3D might tout over its successor is graphical fidelity. While both have gorgeous backgrounds, the use of sprites directly separates them: Iridion 3D merely had to enlarge sprites as they got closer to you, while Iridion II's isometric perspective means that they have to be enlarged and change depth accordingly. A flat sprite is—typically—very unmalleable, so at times it may seem like an object is just scrolling along an invisible conveyer belt toward you (as evidenced by my first screenshot). In addition to this, bullets can travel along a hard-to-determine path due to the isometric perspective and the general blockiness of the player's ship—this issue is especially prevalent whenever a boss decides to fill the screen with amethyst pellets. For the most part the perspective is fine, but the ambiguity may leave you cursing sporadically.

The music remains just as whimsical, thankfully. I'm not exaggerating when I say one of the best things about the game is the title screen, where you can mix different tracks together to form your own favorite main theme (or play around with changing it little by little every measure). There's a couple of old tracks that make a comeback here but it doesn't feel forced or shoe-horned, given that there's such a dizzying amount of tunes. I personally found myself leaning more towards the cool/hip/jazzy tracks like "Spiral Bliss", though the majority of them are positively fantastic (like one of the opening tracks, "Two Years Gone").

There's not really much else I have to say regarding Iridion II. By buffing out the bumps and ugly marks of its former title, the game remains very consistent and enjoyable throughout, a necessary title for the GBA if you're craving quirky STG action. In a way it feels less "remarkable" than Iridion 3D but if that comes at the cost of the game feeling more balanced and fun, it's certainly far from a bad trade.

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