Developer: The Binary Mill
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad, iPhone 3G

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★½☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

When it comes to shoot ‘em ups, there are typically two schools of thought: the Eastern and Western schools of design. The Western school of shoot ‘em up design is balanced, beatable, and most importantly, fair. and the Eastern design, which eschews anything resembling fairness. They will throw bullets, enemies and obstacles at you, and the game will laugh at you while it does it. Australian developers The Binary Mill are a rare case of a developer that is based in the West, but are attempting to make a game that is purely Eastern in design.

The game is an homage to Japanese “bullet hell” shoot ‘em ups, as Assault Squadron’s 6 levels boast numerous enemies and projectiles flying your way. You start off by choosing a difficulty, from Casual, which is the easiest difficulty and gives you unlimited continues, Normal which has more challenging sets of enemies and a limited stock of 10 continues, and Expert, which throws everything the game has at you, and limits you to a paltry 3 continues. Getting out of the first level will be a challenge in itself on Expert, much less beating the game entirely. You then choose your ship to control, each with different weapon sets and shield attributes when you lose a life. The game features 3D animated cut scenes that play before each level as well.

Assault Squadron never chugs or slows down even in the face of the numerous enemies the game throws your way, which is an admirable achievement on a platform that often struggles under the weight of intense, fast-paced games. The game is also exceptionally detailed and looks fantastic. Assault Squadron is also unique for having levels that scroll both vertically and horizontally instead of being locked in one orientation. The difficulties are well-balanced – if you want to see everything, Casual is great, Normal takes practice but you can progress in the game as you learn its nuances, and Expert truly feels like it’s just for that, experts.

However, becoming an expert at this game will be a challenge with the controls provided. None of them ever feel truly accurate or comfortable. The default offset controls work best once you get the hang of how the offsetting works, but I never felt like I was completely confident in the ability to accurately move and position my ship where I wanted.

Assault Squadron is a great attempt at the “bullet hell” shoot ‘em up genre from outside of its homeland, and is impressive from a technical standpoint, but a shoot ‘em up with uncomfortable controls is a shoot ‘em up that should be approached with caution. The Binary Mill did a great job at crafting a fun shoot ‘em up, but the controls need a little more time in the oven.

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