Everywhere you venture in the world of indie gaming and the Xbox Live Arcade you’ll find clones of the wildly successful Geometry Wars from Bizarre Creations. Usually, most of them don’t live up to the standards that the original set and ultimately end up failing. Some take different paths to branch out, essentially creating variations on the dual-stick shooter that made such a splash. Ion Assault is one that attempted to go in a different direction from the rest of the pack. While the analog sticks are used, the elements that made up Geometry Wars have been traded in for a solo asteroid-shooter that works rather well — if you can get the hang of the controls.
For what’s essentially a current-gen replacement for the classic Asteroids, Ion Assault is an enjoyable Arcade title. Simply eliminate all enemies, collect power-ups, and destroy any obstacles that happen to get in your way.
As you begin each stage you’ll find that the entire play field is rife with ammunition — ion particles — that allow you to make progress. You won’t begin the stage with a full ammunition gauge, and thus you’ll need to draw in the particles with the right trigger. The more ion particles you’ve collected, the more powerful your shots will become. Of course, that’s where physics comes into play. If you’re a glutton and draw in as many particles as possible, the result is a heavier ship that can’t exactly maneuver past obstacles, ships, and asteroids in a very sprightly fashion. You may also utilize the particles as a type of shield against oncoming threats, though a certain degree of care must be employed when making decisions regarding the use of this privilege. When enemies are downed you may siphon your used particles back from their remnants. There are several different ways to put the ion particles to good use, but no real “right” way to play. It’s all up to the player to decide how effectively and efficiently he or she will use what’s available in each stage.
Each stage progesses rather slowly, rife with enemies and asteroids that threaten to grind you into dust. There are several different types of enemies available that will jet onto the scene so quickly that it sometimes becomes difficult to differentiate them from power-ups, so often you’ll be running straight for them thinking you’ll receive a speed boost, and instead an instant death occurs. Good thinking, right? When faced with an onslaught of enemies and other debris, your best bet is to become accustomed to their strategies and plan accordingly.
And, as previously mentioned, make good use of power-ups. They’re not just there to look pretty. They become quite useful when you’re staring down four or five ships who want you dead. Intriguing power-ups such as the Vortex and Plasma Torus will prove themselves useful time and time again, either sucking a massive amount of enemies into a cosmic whirling dervish or acting as shields to absorb the brunt of damage that you’d otherwise be taking. Rather than fluff and a reason to implement pretty colors, they’re quite solid complements to Ion Assault‘s gameplay and require different strategies of their own in order to utilize properly.
Of course, as previously mentioned, the game takes more than a few cues from Geometry Wars. First off, there is a lovely neon color scheme spilling over with glowing, pulsating color for your ship and immediate surroundings. Ion particles are bright, luminous objects that make for a sight to behold. Streams of colors such as blue, pink, green, and purple are marvelous, representing the color that you chose at the beginning of the game. Each enemy is varied in looks and actions, and the game has a decidedly “techno” feel to it, right down to its pumping soundtrack, complete with a commanding female voice who feels the need to announce every single facet of gameplay.
Ion Assault can be completed just over a couple hours if you really get into it, but the real meat of the game lies within its stylistic and well thought-out complexities like the intuitive power-ups and requisite tactical usage of ion particles. It’s a great little shoot-’em-up that’s quite affordable and easy on the eyes. Along with very few faults and that thumpin’ techno bass, this all makes Ion Assault a game to watch. Give it a try, especially if you’re a fan of the classic Asteroids or even Geometry Wars‘ slick presentation.