Review: Big Bang Mini

BBM_DS_Pack_Shot.jpg SouthPeak Games and Arkedo bring the joys of 4th of July fireworks celebrations to the DS in their new shooter Big Bang Mini. I know, right smack in the middle of winter seems like an odd time to release a fireworks-themed game, but as splendid as the game is you won’t see the need to question the timing for long.

Following in the footsteps of arcade classics like Space Invaders and Galaxian, Big Bang Mini is a simple 2D shmup (shoot ‘em up for those not up on their gaming lingo) in which you guide a small ship (an orb in this game’s case) across the bottom of the screen and blast away at waves of enemies raining down from above in various attack patterns. This style of arcade shooter has been around for ages and over the years the genre has become crowded with far too many me-too copycats to name, but three key elements enable Big Bang Mini to stand out in the crowd and truly reinvent the genre: controls, diversity and content.

First let me cover the controls. Big Bang Mini is entirely touch-screen controlled. Instead of moving horizontally along a fixed axis at the bottom of the screen with the D-pad, you have complete freedom to move your firework-blasting orb ship anywhere you like by dragging it to and fro with the stylus. And rather than mashing on a face button to fire at incoming enemies, you flick the stylus on the screen wherever you want and fireworks launch upward from that point at the angle of your flicking motion. Throughout the main arcade mode, you also gain temporary gesture-based powers to help out in a pinch, such as drawing a horizontal line across the screen to setup a protective barrier to hide behind or a swirl mark to activate a whirlwind that sucks up all enemy fire like a vacuum cleaner.

So much subtle strategy is added to the gameplay because of this control scheme. Since the ship itself doesn’t actually do the shooting, there’s increased frenzy over having to constantly monitor your ship’s position to keep it from being hit by incoming bullets while at the same time working to find proper angles to lob up a few shots when you’ve found a safe zone to hide your ship for a couple seconds. Another factor you have to consider is how all missed shots explode and ricochet firework particles back at you, so you can’t just sit there and spam fireworks and breeze through.

However, as much as I love the control scheme, the tense, chaotic pacing of the gameplay can lead to occasional control inconsistencies, which can in turn lead to cheap deaths. For example, there are times when you go to drag your ship to a new location and miss with the stylus by a millimeter, causing a firework blast to explode right on top of you. This goes both ways too. Sometimes you go to flick up a shot only to accidentally drag your ship into harm’s way. These issues can definitely be frustrating, but thankfully they are largely infrequent and by no means backbreaking.

The second component contributing to Big Bang Mini’s success is the unbelievable diversity that permeates every aspect of the experience. This diversity shows up most in the presentation, with each of the nine main worlds being uniquely themed with wildly differing graphic styles, music, sound effects, power-ups, enemies and bosses. The New York world, for example, has a comic book motif going on with a scrolling cityscape in the background, laser-shooting sharks as enemies and text bubbles like “Kaboom” and Pow!” popping up as enemies are exterminated. Then there is the Egyptian-themed Luxor world paying homage to games like Space Invaders with an 8-bit blippy-bloopy arcade style.

The diversity isn’t just an audiovisual thing either; it extends to the gameplay as well. Different gameplay twists are also introduced with each theme. The Rio De Janeiro world, for instance, brings in a rhythm-based combo element, while in the snowy Aurora world you have to deal with changing wind conditions that alter the trajectory of your blasts. Every stage also ends with these cool connect-the-dot bonus challenges, and these too change to meet the style of each world theme.

Last but not certainly not least on Big Bang Mini’s list of accomplishments is its immense content offering. The main Arcade Mode is a whopping 90 levels long (10 per world), and then from there you unlock loads of bonus modes, including a two-player Versus mode supporting single-card download play, a Relax Mode enabling you to kick back and create your own firework displays, a Mission Mode challenging you to complete stages under certain conditions (clear a stage without missing a single shot, finish within a time limit, etc.), an Alarm Clock feature you can set to wake you up with game music, and my favorite of all, the Challenge Mode, an endless score attack mode tied to an online leaderboard testing to see who can achieve the highest score. That’s a lot of modes!

Big Bang Mini is the most pure fun I’ve had with any DS game to date, I kid you not, and that’s saying a lot given the depth and quality of the DS game library. I was actually right in the middle of Chrono Trigger and the new Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero – both great games by the way – but as soon as Big Bang Mini arrived it immediately went into my DS and I’ve yet to take it out.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that all this shmup goodness only costs $20? Now that’s what I call bang for your buck!

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Pros:
+ Classically addictive shmup gameplay reinvented with many twists
+ Unique and intuitive touch-screen control scheme
+ Incredibly diverse and distinctive world themes
+ Tons of levels, play modes and bonuses
+ Unbelievable value at only $20 (I’d buy it for twice that much!)

Cons:
– Occasional control mishaps

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Developer: Arkedo
Release Date: 1/21/09
Genre: Arcade Shooter
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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!