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Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Price: $1.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Update: 10/26/2011, Version 1.1

Well then, it appears as though the update I’d heard rumblings about has officially happened. Dark Incursion has gone to 1.1, and brought a major control overhaul with it. The virtual stick is much more responsive this time out, and while it’s still not quite as fine-tuned as I’d like (it’s easy to accidentally face the wrong way at times and the jump-then-move mechanics are still a bit off), but it’s a vast improvement. It might not be quite as good as the games it obviously takes inspiration from, but it’s still quite good in its own right. The score has been tweaked to reflect this change, obviously.

Ever since Samus Aran took her first steps onto the surface of planet Zebes, everyone has been trying to make use of “Metroidvania” gameplay mechanics: Explore, locate new gear, use new gear to explore more, locate more new gear, etc. For the unfamiliar, it’s a fairly simple concept but it takes a lot of care to balance properly. Otherwise players will just get bored. This is a pseudo-genre that I feel is severely lacking on the App Store, but there are a few titles out there. And now there’s one more.

Dark Incursion follows Anya, an agent (government?) in an alternate 1800′s timeline who’s attempting to shut down a secret laboratory creating biological weaponry. It plays out in the form of a side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure game with plenty of power-ups to acquire and secrets to find. Powers are handled by slotting special fuses Anya finds into her gloves/gauntlets (via the menus screen), and run the gamut from defense boosts to elemental specials that can create platforms or activate dormant machinery.

I have to say, I’m a big fan of Dark Incursion‘s style. It’s got clean, colorful pixel art that’s almost retro, but has plenty of detail and some nice animations. There’s also a bizarre (yet interesting) option to turn on a 3D effect that requires special glasses as far as I can tell. I also enjoy the special abilities afforded by the fuses, which are pretty cool although their use is somewhat limited.

It’s disappointing, then, that the fuses are only temporary. Finding and equipping multiples increases their duration, but they can still run out. And it’s not all that fun to farm enemies for random drops when a specific (used-up) element is required to proceed. Permanent fuses can be bought with real money, but it requires real money. However, this is all really just a pet peeve. The real problem with Dark Incursion is the controls.

In short, the controls are terrible. The virtual joystick is simultaneously too rigid and too sensitive, with angled jumps requiring a running start (no mid-air movement) and ducking only working when the stick is straight down. Seriously, even a slight deviation from directly down will make Anya walk in that direction. Usually face-first into a hail of bullets. According to Big Blue Bubble an update with control tweaks is on the way, but right now they’re pretty borked.

I hate to turn my nose up at such a pretty and theoretically cool game, but the controls really do drag the whole experience down. I’m honestly hoping that this control fix happens soon, and that it requires me to readjust the score up there. Unfortunately, as of this writing, that hasn’t happened yet. And until it does, I think people should hold off on Dark Incursion.


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