Indie Quickie: Ionball 2: Ionstorm

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? A high-tech evolution of the classic ball-and-paddle arcade brick buster.

Who made it and where can you get it? Ionball 2 comes from Ironsun Studios and KISS Ltd. It’s available now on Steam for Windows PC at the regular price of $6.99. (Or only $4.68 during the Steam Summer Sale.)

How much did we play? I smacked robots around with the Ionball for approximately an hour and a half, clearing 32 of the 60 total stages while dying more than 50 times in the process. (Yes, this game is pretty tough.)

Any technical concerns, hardware requirements or other details you should know about? Controllers aren’t natively supported, but for this type of game the smooth glide of a mouse is best anyway. The game does provide a nice amount of resolution options as well as six different graphics settings, from Fastest to Fantastic. Even at max resolution and graphics, you shouldn’t need a high-end PC to run this.

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Why should you play it?

    Whereas a game like Wizorb put a retro JRPG twist on the genre originated by Breakout, Ionball 2 is like a mashup of Arkanoid, Space Invaders and a shmup, in which the paddle (or bat) functions sort of like a spaceship and the bricks you’re tasked with breaking take the form of droids. These robotic enemies come in different types, each with unique abilities. The majority either hover in place or scroll on the screen in various patterns, while other special types mingle in with the basic droids to present additional challenges. Some droids have protective force fields which cycle on and off. Some move around the playing area and heal other droids that haven’t been hit enough times to blow up. Some constantly summon reinforcements until the respawner is eliminated. There are even gun towers and actual bosses capable of firing at your paddle and destroying it, leaving the bottom of the screen wide open for the ball to fall through. That’s a bad thing in case you didn’t already know.

    But don’t worry, your paddle has its own arsenal of upgradeable firepower. When droids are eliminated, experience point collectibles shower down the screen and must be gathered by sliding the paddle underneath to catch them. Experience can then be used to unlock upgrades between stages. Passive upgrades allow you to increase ball damage, extend the bat size, or add a magnet to the paddle to suck in XP points so they aren’t as risky to collect. Active class upgrades equip the paddle with an array of limited-use offensive abilities used by right clicking during play, including weapons like laser beams, railguns, rocket launchers and EMP bombs. This paddle isn’t messing around.

    This confluence of mechanics makes for a fast and frenzied brand of brick breaking. The experience system adds an element of risk/reward as you try to maintain awareness of the ball while determining when to gamble for a large cluster of falling XP points, and when to just let them go so you can be sure the ball doesn’t suddenly take a wrong bounce and pass by the paddle before you can react. And quick reactions are a must since the level of activity comes close to bullet hell standards as the ball quickly ricochets across a playing field teeming with explosions and other moving parts. In fact, sometimes the screen is too chaotic, to the point where the ball becomes lost in the cascade of particle effects and easy to lose track of until it’s too late. Fortunately, the paddle response is smooth and lightning quick, affording you the ability to recover and pull off last-second saves.

Parting Thoughts: Like any game from the Breakout family tree, the main goal is, of course, to achieve the highest possible score within the allotted number of lives and then post that score to the online leaderboards to see how you stack up against the elite Ionball masters. Level progression doesn’t reset when lives are exhausted — and trust me, you will lose many lives — your current high score simply drops to zero and you’re booted back to the main menu where you can reload from where you left off with a fresh set of tries and a heightened ambition to set an even higher score than last time. Based on my play time, Ionball 2 achieves a great balance of new and old school concepts and comes together in a happy marriage between vintage arcade gameplay fundamentals and all the flash and sizzle of modern game design. This one’s a safe recommendation for fans of brick breakers like Arkanoid and Breakout. Anyone interested in a challenging slice of arcade action that’s easy to pick up but hard to put down should find a lot to like as well.

Disclosure: A free Steam key for Ionball 2: Ionstorm was provided to VGBlogger.com by the game’s developer.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!