Developer: Gnomic Studios
Price: $2.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5

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

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Some ideas just don’t go out of style. Take Robotron 2084 for instance. This twin-stick shooter from the now ancient 80s continues to inspire legions of developers and their games. Square Off is no exception but is there enough new, innovative, or interesting material here to warrant a purchase?

IMG_4865Consider Square Off a hybrid of old school twin-stick shooters like Robotron and new school run-and-gun platformers like Jetpack Joyride – just without very much platforming. The virtual sticks in this shooter are of the virtual variety, with the left hand controlling movement while the right hand handles aiming and firing weapons – but developer Gnomic Studios has wisely chosen to have the controls appear wherever a player’s thumbs happen to land on the screen. This solves one of the most irritating aspects of this kind of game on the iPhone/iPad, but it’s still not as comfortable or as effective as having real analog controls. Still, it’s an acceptable – and better yet, playable – compromise.

There’s a story behind all of the mayhem in the game, but it’s hardly necessary. Players control a large square block (is there any other kind?) that must fight his (her?) way through waves of green alien enemies of various sizes. Various power, health, and weapon upgrades appear as enemies are killed, but the primary weapons at a player’s disposal are a laser pistol and bombs that can be dropped on larger enemies or groups of enemies. The weapons are fairly standard but usable, even if aiming is still a little hard to achieve with the virtual controls.

IMG_4862Graphically, Square Off has more going on in the background than in the foreground. Levels have a multi-layer 3D effect, while the main gameplay is fairly flat and in the foreground. It’s a nice mix of visuals, but the generic character design could use some tweaking. Sound is likewise well-done, with solid music driving the action forward throughout the game.

So, let’s return to the question at the start of this review. Is Square Off worth purchasing? Though there are some clever touches throughout the game, it doesn’t add up to a cohesive experience that I’d want to play over and over again. It lacks the aesthetic and unremitting challenge of a game like Geometry Wars, and it also lacks the charm and replayability of Jetpack Joyride. It’s good, but nothing makes it great. There’s a free version that allows players to play through the first few levels, so they can try before they buy. As for me, I’d just as soon find a Showbiz Pizza and drop a few quarters in Robotron.


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