Helion is a great looking side-scrolling shooter

Posted: August 25, 2009 in Shooter

When it comes to shooters, I can never have too many of them, although finding the good ones can take some work. For example, Helion originally came out several weeks ago, but because of a bug with iPod Touch devices, I patiently waited for the update. After spending a fair amount of time, I’d have to say it was worth the wait, albeit a few tweaks are still needed to make it perfect. But, if you’re looking for a different kind of shooter that’s both visually great to look at and challenging to play, then Helion is worth your consideration.

At its core, Helion is a side-scrolling shooter where the objective is to blast anything and everything in your path. With 3 levels of difficulty—easy, normal and hard—the game has 18 stages that are categorized into 6 levels and presented with a good variety of 3D backgrounds. The game also has 9 music tracks and from the ones I’ve heard, they’re all pretty epic, adding the right amount of urgency to the gameplay.

The enemies come in all shapes and sizes—20 in all—with names such as Shellhead, Needler, Twinstreams, Solar Cores, Porcupine, Rhino Gunship, Spinblades and Thorn Stars among others. I won’t overwhelm you with a description of each, but let’s just say, their names are pretty accurate in terms of what they are and how they attack. And, visually, they look top notch.

Your ship isn’t without defenses, coming equipped with a Helion laser beam that can intensify exponentially in inflicting damage by acquiring damage boosts. In addition, Life Boosts are available to repair any ship damage, as well as extra lives which I can say without a doubt that you’ll need.

The game uses multi-touch controls where you touch and drag your ship to move it while using a second finger to direct your weapon’s fire. It’s actually very simple to use, but this is also one of the flaws of Helion because your finger partially blocks the screen, which isn’t ideal especially when facing a large barrage of enemies. Not a deal breaker by any means and I did get used to maneuvering my ship after playing through a few stages. An ideal alternative would be the ability to move by touching anywhere on the screen so that at least the ship is visible.

A tutorial is provided that provides a walkthrough of the basic ship mechanics and even provides a simple practice session. Trust me when I say that the practice mode is child’s play compared to the in-game action.

The gameplay is intense as waves of enemy ships attack either by firing weapons or coming at you kamikaze style. The different enemies have varying attack formations, and in many cases, you can expect a single enemy with a powerful weapon or a barrage of weaker ones intent on overwhelming your ship. It’s quite the adrenaline rush if you enjoy shooters as much as I do, but also frustrating at the same time. As you become more familiar with the controls, you’ll be more comfortable dodging and shooting at an angle. That’s one of the key advantages of the game’s multi-touch capabilities: being able to move and shoot simultaneously while maintaining a steady laser beam.

Some enemy ships require a constant laser beam or multiple shots before they’re destroyed, while others have shields blocking shots. In those situations, you’ll need to watch for a weak spot before blowing it to smithereens.

While the game only has local high scores (it really needs online scoring for replay value), I also noticed that in replaying the game from the start, that enemy formations tend to stay the same. Having said that, even being familiar with the formations doesn’t make the game any easier. The difficulty level could also use some tweaking since even on the Easy setting, the game is challenging.

All in all, Helion’s graphics and gameplay make this an ideal game for shooter fans with the caveat of the touch controls. The controls work fine once you get used to them, but they need some tweaking to make them more ideal. The game definitely delivers fun, and I would recommend it if you’re up for a challenge.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (great shooter that can be both challenging and frustration at the same time; multi-touch controls work well but could use some tweaking; variety of enemies and 3D backgrounds add to the overall package)

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