Price: Free ($0.99 for full version)
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
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Back in the summer of 2007, the PlayStation 3 was just a newborn, screaming and filthy, and at the time it had little to show for all the mess. But then a downloadable game called Super Stardust HD shone through all the roughness, thanks to high-octane, high-scoring play complementing a real depth of challenge. And for me, the twin-stick directional shooter claimed my summer. The one-more-go was far too strong in this one. Five summers later, a dangerously similar game has appeared on iOS. I'll see you all in the fall.
Like Super Stardust HD, Darkside involves shooting lots of big rocks into little rocks (a la the classic Asteroids) while navigating around and just above one very big rock. The notable difference between the two games? The power-ups. Whereas Stardust boosted three types of weapon which players switched between at will, Darkside bestows a bevy of weapons like long-distance lasers, three-way fire, and missile blasters which are degradable and that players don't select between. In Stardust players adapted to enemies by switching to the appropriate weapon, but in Darkside the idea is to adapt to the weapon power-ups you come across. Also, because the weapons degrade, there's also some emphasis on using your arsenal wisely while you have it, although further power-ups aren't too hard to stumble upon. This introduces an appreciably different kind of dynamic. Play is more chaotic, but with that chaos comes a lack of precision and finesse. In short, it feels rougher.
The greatest similarity? How mercilessly addictive it is. The stage-by-stage arcade mode will attract score-chasers, and the survival mode is also a great inclusion in the paid version. But Darkside's real winners are the missions (also available with the paid version). These offer a diverse mix of challenges, things like clearing a stage of asteroids, or a time-limited defense of buildings, or even the occasional boss fight. This is where the one-more-go factor is particularly dangerous as it distracts from the slight repetitiveness of the arcade mode. With 100 missions to play through, and indeed missions which are challenging right from the off, Darkside is absolutely ravenous for attention.
While the mix of weapons is undoubtedly good, it is difficult to distinguish between the different symbols for various weapon power-ups. In the end it matters only slightly; just gravitate towards anything red (weapons) or green (health) and that works well enough. Another minor complaint is that sometimes the iPhone can experience ill-timed slowdown when the screen gets a little too dense, leading to damage, but this is too rare to significantly bother.
In short, it is pointless to resist. If you only knew the power of the Darkside... yeah, I'll stop. But really, this is a fantastic twin-stick shooter, both in its free and paid versions, and if you have any kind of love for the genre then it cannot be resisted.