Tyrian brings back the good old days of shooters

Posted: July 1, 2009 in Shooter

The iTunes store has a fair amount of vertical shooters with a variety of themes and control schemes. In general, graphics and animation are secondary to the responsiveness of the controls, and this usually what separates the great shooters from the good ones. In the case of Tyrian, smooth touch/drag controls are its strength, but it’s a bug that takes a bit of the wind from its sails (a patch is in the works).

For those not familiar with the history of Tyrian, the game’s origins harken back to the days of dot-coms, IPOs and twenty-something CEOs of the early 1990s (apparently things haven’t changed) when it was first conceived by a young programmer and then commercially released by Epic MegaGames in 1995 as a PC shooter. Ultimately, Tyrian was then released with additional levels as a freeware in 2004.

The ‘90s roots are definitely apparent in the retro graphics, and for older gamers, this will bring back memories. To the younger gamer, the graphics won’t be anything to write home about, but they admirably stand up to the test of time. One note of caution is that the soundtrack and even some of the voiceovers seem a bit muffled for whatever reason.

When booting up Tyrian for the very first time, you must download 4.6 mbs of v2.1 data files over a wireless connection. While mentioned in the iTunes app description, it can easily be overlooked, but is worth mentioning because you won’t be able to launch the game until these files are installed. Over wi-fi, installation took about 1 minute for my iPod Touch 2g.

Tyrian has two modes of play: Full Game Mode and Arcade Mode with 4 episodes and 50 levels. The 4 episodes—Escape, Treachery, Suicide, An End to Fate—follow the journey and battles of protagonist Trent as he fights a universe-wide takeover by the Microsol Corporation. There are 50 levels in Tyrian with a variety of obstacles and courses that should provide plenty of depth.

While Tyrian is a port, the touch/drag controls are done well because my finger doesn’t really cover the ship as I’m dragging it from place to place. Another plus is the absence of any lag in movement which is often a problem with this type of control. While the menu and upgrade system is straightforward and accessible through touch and navigated via arrows, they can be a little clunky and difficult to navigate tapping arrows. A touch and drag/scroll option would’ve probably worked better in this instance. One aspect included from the old school days is the inclusion of a separate demo section where a randomly selected animation of gameplay is shown.

In terms of difficulty levels, the basic ones are Easy, Medium and Hard. But, one of the neat things about Tyrian is the secret levels. During gameplay, you will intentionally or unintentionally in some cases access secret levels which can open up additional difficulty levels such as Impossible, Suicide and Lord of the Game. From playing a few of these secret levels, enemies have certain attributes such as increased health, stronger and wider fire power, and significant attack swarms. In some cases, your ship may have limited views or movements which ratchet up the difficulty.

While the gameplay is similar in Full Game and Arcade modes, there are differences. Full Game follows more of the storyline where money is earned (coins appear) by destroying enemies and targets. Once earned, the money can be used to upgrade in between levels a variety of things:
Ship type—based on armor
Front Gun/Rear Gun—you can have both
Shield—enemy fire deflector
Generator—ship engine
Sidekicks—special weapons that accompany and fight alongside

In addition, bits of the story provides accessible through Data Boxes provide snippets of the story and advice on what is to be faced at each level. In terms of weapons, there are two types: Front Guns (primary) and Rear Guns (secondary). Front guns include cannons, lasers, heavy missiles, homing bombs and lightning guns. Rear guns are similar but have a wider reach. In addition, sidekicks can be purchased which fly alongside, but fire independently of your ship. They’re usually pretty powerful and can get you out of some tight jams. Atom bombs and mines are other weapons for your purchasing pleasure, and they’re useful for decimating land targets such as bases and vehicles.

While you can make upgrades to the ship, the current bug in the game won’t allow for weapons upgrades. Is this significant to the overall feel of the game? Not necessarily, but it does prevent you from arming your ship with the best possible firepower that you can afford, which can be the difference between success and failure. I’m not sure how this was overlooked because it’s a core part of Tyrian.

On Screen Controls in Full Game Mode
– Top shows status of Ship Health and Main Weapon (tap to turn off autofire)
– Middle shows sidekick status (tap to activate)
– Bottom shows change weapon (tap to switch)
– Bottom left corner is pause/menu button

In Arcade mode, everything in Full Game Mode is available with the exception of the storyline and the method to which upgrades are acquired. Weapons in this mode appear as purple orbs after destroying certain enemies and targets and the objective to catch these.

On Screen Controls in Arcade Mode
– Top shows Ship Health and Status of front and rear guns
– Bottom shows name of level, status of shields and ammo
– Bottom left corner is pause/menu button

The bug is not present in Arcade mode, so you should be able to upgrade accordingly. Something to keep in mind is that you can also sell your upgrades when appropriate, but as I mentioned, there are secret levels so you’ll want to plan accordingly.

One additional piece of information that may be useful is the Change Game Speed function. Under Menu, the option exists to change the speed of the game within 4 speeds: slug, slow, slower, normal and turbo. The game on the normal setting can be extremely fast moving so you can experiment with the settings to find the right speed for you.

The gameplay in Tyrian is very quick and smooth and the explosions are nicely animated. The retro graphics may be a little off putting for some, but in general, they are well balanced. The on-screen controls for each of the modes are intuitively placed and accessible. Here’s is one of those instances where I wish view options were provided. The game is played in landscape mode which works fine, but for a vertical shooter, a portrait view would make sense because of the longer real estate. In a way, the interface works well, but it’s the menus and upgrade system that could use some refining. While functional, they’re not the easiest to use.

With the number of shooters available, choosing the right one comes down to personal tastes and preferences. Tyrian offers a good deal of depth and solid controls that make it worthwhile if you’re looking for a shooter. Just don’t sweat some of the perceived rough edges that come with retro titles and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

Albie Meter: 3.5 Stars (good retro shooter that isn’t perfect, but depth and controls make up for that; the weapons upgrade bug can’t be overlooked but should be addressed shortly which will then make this a 4-star game)

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