Big Bang Mini
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-02-16 Nintendo DS Shooter E (Everyone) SouthPeak Interactive / Arkedo Studio

Big Bang Mini was one of the few "shooter" titles that really caught my eye during last year's E3. But what at first seemed to be just an ordinary shoot-em-up with a pretty coat of paint is actually much more, and provides a dangerously addictive experience at a budget-friendly price tag.

Appropriately named, Big Bang Mini focuses on creating big bangs in the sky with multi-colored fireworks. Each set of 10 levels (nine basic and one boss) is uniquely themed around various parts of the world or other phenomena (like the aurora borealis), and sees you blasting the hell out of everything in your path.

Gameplay utilizes the stylus in a two-fold fashion. As the environment rapidly scrolls by, quirky, comical creatures appear on the top screen, forcing you to not only drag your tiny ship around the touch screen in order to avoid enemy fire, but also to blast at them with a quick flick of the stylus in whatever direction you choose. That is, an enemy at the top right corner of the screen needs to be appropriately aimed at by dragging your stylus in said direction. Other elements like wind become a factor in later levels, creating a greater demand for accuracy, as you must predict how far the wind will make your firework bullet travel in the sky.

Upon defeating an enemy, the sky is filled with a gorgeous array of fireworks, comprised mostly of a fuschia, green, blue and gold color scheme. Likewise, if you fire a shot and miss, your bullet will still explode into a firework, but instead of simply fading away into the darkness, it instead results in a kind of "shrapnel" that falls onto the touch screen and must be avoided, along with the shots of your enemies.

This factor alone adds a tremendous amount of panic and urgency to the entire experience, as madly flinging your stylus in every direction known to man will only result in even more "bullets" for you to avoid, as if the barrage sent out by enemies wasn't enough.

At the end of every level, a bonus zone appears that tasks you with moving your ship along a numbered "connect-the-dots" pattern, while avoiding various barbs, ice blocks, etc. that will result in a failed attempt.

All of that being said, while challenge is abundant, the game is far from impossible to complete, and in fact can be completed within a few hours, if you happen to possess such an ingrained ability to aim. Even after completing the basic Arcade mode however (which contains almost 100 levels), the game is far from over, as new modes are unlocked that create literally endless gameplay opportunities.

The first is Challenge Mode, which takes advantage of the DS's Wi-Fi capabilities by enabling you to compare your scores to those of not only your friends, but anyone around the world. In terms of actual head-to-head multiplayer, the game's Versus mode supports a two-player, single cart experience and provides for various upgrades to your ship like shock waves, shields and appearance changes that up the ante when fighting against a friend.

A fourth gameplay mode comes in the form of 25 missions, which are unlocked only after defeating the Arcade mode. These missions are basically repeats of earlier levels that now come equipped with various conditions (time limits and so on) that must be abided by in order to pass them.

Two final gameplay options are the game's Relax mode (unlocked by completing every "connect-the-dot" bonus zone in Arcade mode), and an Alarm Clock feature. While the alarm clock is self-explanatory, the Relax mode is a bit more complicated. For those who fall in love with the look of the game, as many are sure to do, Relax mode allows you to simply sit back and watch the fireworks explode in the sky. While there are options for manually controlling the show, you can also let the game take over and truly relax as it does all the work.

While the Relax mode may be unnecessary in some gamers' minds, I for one appreciate the addition immensely, as it provides an outlet for simply appreciating the game's truly beautiful graphical design. The game's enemies are unique and highly varied, ranging from dancing skeletons and marionettes, to ethereal ghosts and spiders, along with pigs hanging from balloons, 80's themed rainbow-riding rabbits (complete with 3-D glasses), and even rock-guitar-playing Sackboy lookalikes.

Along with the awe-inspiring fireworks themselves, each physical environment, like the creepy jungle of Kamakura, Japan or the skylines of Hong Kong is just as creatively designed, with unique shapes and bright colors that are striking in and of themselves, but aren't so flamboyant to cause a distraction from the gameplay taking place in the foreground.

The same can be said of the sound department which is a flurry of sound effects ranging from basic sound effects for explosions to more minute details like ricochets set over an intense soundtrack, fitting with the game's overall pace and mood in each set of levels.

All in all, while Big Bang Mini isn't the first shooting game to be released on the DS, and most certainly won't be the last, it is arguably the best. With perhaps the best visuals I have witnessed in a DS game to date, intuitive yet challenging gameplay, and a charm matched by few others, whether you are a "shooter" fan or not, this one simply must be played.

Special thanks to John Kopp and SouthPeak for providing a copy of this title.