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Ion Assault (Xbox 360) artwork

Ion Assault (Xbox 360) review

"It's a good thing Ion Assault gives players unlimited continues, as a good deal of the difficulty in this game comes from simply learning when and where enemies will warp into the screen. During my first trip through the first zone, I died a few times on every level, but the first. During the second trip, the boss was the only thing I found challenging."

Back in the olden days, one of those Atari 2600 games I played from time to time was Asteroids. I blew up a bunch of rocks until eventually dying and then wrote down my score in a little hi-score booklet just like any healthy, socially-awkward geekazoid would do. Good times.

I can't say that I've thought too much about Asteroids since those pre-teen days. At least not until the past week or so, when I started playing Ion Assault. Developed by Coreplay for that Live Arcade dealie on the XBox 360, this game can best be described as a modern-day Asteroids. You still blow up a bunch of rocks, but there are a decent number of hostile ships-n-stuff, sub-weapons and bosses to deal with, as well. Oh, and the same sort of psychedelic backgrounds delivered by Geometry Wars a ways back. Trippy colors enhance the shooting experience, apparently.

There are four zones in the game with each one divided into five stages and a boss battle. To move from one stage to the next, you have to blow up all the rocks with your blaster gun. Big rocks explode into medium-size ones; medium-size ones shatter into tiny ones and those just get evaporated. In the game's first stage, this is simplicity itself, as there are very few enemies and those snake-like ships do nothing but fly aimlessly around the screen waiting for you to blast them into nothingness.

It doesn't stay that easy, though. As you progress through the game, more and more enemies warp into stages at once and they are progressively more lethal. While those snakes are pitiful, circular devices that regularly fire off tiny projectiles that constantly track you down until destroyed can be VERY troublesome. It's a good thing Ion Assault gives players unlimited continues, as a good deal of the difficulty in this game comes from simply learning when and where enemies will warp into the screen. During my first trip through the first zone, I died a few times on every level, but the first. During the second trip, the boss was the only thing I found challenging.

Part of that also has to be credited to the learning curve I had to deal with in controlling my ship. The left analog stick moves you around the screen, the right stick rotates your ship and the left trigger controls your primary weapon. The longer you hold the trigger down, the more powerful your blasts are. A weak shot might need to be repeated multiple times to break apart or destroy just about anything, while a super-charged blast will cause much more damage. It's not that this is a complicated system or anything -- it just takes some time getting used to using both sticks to control your ship with the necessary proficiency to handle those smaller, quicker enemies that love to chase you around the screen.

The problem with Ion Assault is that by the time I started to get halfway good at it, I was already starting to lose interest. Back in the day, Asteroids was a particular favorite of mine -- it was more of a diversion I'd pick up occasionally, play for a bit and then toss back into my Magical Shoebox o' Games. While this game does contain more variety than Asteroids, it still manufactured the same emotions.

I have to attribute that to the simple fact that many of Ion Assault's additions to that formula just aren't much to write home about. Since enemies warp into stages in fixed locations at fixed times, once you've beaten a stage once, you've beaten it. The challenge and replay value is diluted when the only "X-factor" is how the asteroids meander through each level. None of the sub-weapon power-ups really impressed me and the bosses generally seemed to be big ships with a lot of guns. In other words, the sort of thing I'd expect from any old shooters. Hell, even the psychedelic backgrounds and colorful explosions can work against the game, as it is possible to lose track of your ship among the chaos only to realize you just lost a life.

But like I said, Asteroids never was one of my personal favorites from yesteryear. Someone who loved that game probably would look at this as a wonderful trip down memory lane, as Ion Assault is essentially an upgraded version of it. And even if, like me, you don't find it to have much depth or replay value, it does only cost something like $10, so it's probably be more than worth your money if you want to relive those glory days of zipping through space and blasting big rocks into dust.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 16, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted October 19, 2009:

I think trippy colours do enhance the shooter experience, mainly because otherwise you'd be looking at a static fucking screen for fifteen minutes.
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overdrive posted October 19, 2009:

I definite don't disagree with that. You need to give players of shooters graphics that aren't static and pretty explosions or they'll simply dump your game and pick up any of the many that give them that. I just think it was a bit mishandled here to where your small ship could get lost in the pretty explosions.

I love good graphical effects, but when they lead to me suffering what I feel to be cheap deaths, I draw the line.
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zippdementia posted October 20, 2009:

Indeed, indeed. I wasn't disagreeing, just postulating.

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