Have you ever seen an adaptation that only kept superficial elements from its source material, but was otherwise its own thing? That’s what this game did to the shooter genre.
This is technically a twin-stick shooter. You move with the left stick, aim with the right stick, fire missiles with the R button, and grapple things with the L button. Each level consists of multiple rooms, and each room is around 2x2 screens in size. The goal is to rescue all the workers by grappling them, which automatically brings them in your ship. Once all the workers have been dealt with, the door to the next room opens. Sometimes, you’ll come across a flag-bearer; you don’t have to rescue them to progress, but if you do, you’ll get a bit of world-building with them commenting on what’s going on. You’ll also find diamonds in the levels, either sticking out of the solid tiles or hidden behind destructible objects, and you need to collect enough of them to unlock the final level in each world.
While it is true that rooms have enemies and that you can shoot at the enemies to kill them (with the enemies likewise being able to do the same thing to you), said enemies are few and far between. It isn’t uncommon for there to be no enemies in a room, and if there are, they’re usually in a small group (usually 3 or less) and can be taken out in seconds with little resistance. So how does the game try to add challenge? Why, by having enemies appear out of thin air, of course! Yup, enemies will just suddenly show up, triggered by random things like rescuing a certain worker or reaching a certain point in the level; you can clear a hall of enemies only for there to be more when you go back the way you came, and sometimes, they even brazenly poof into existence right in front of you on screen! With that said, getting hit by enemies or their projectiles usually doesn’t kill you in one hit; instead, you have a temperature gauge, and getting hit fills it up to 3/4th capacity; wait enough without getting hit again and it starts to cool down, but if it fills up completely, your ship overheats and slowly floats down until it crashes.
Plus, the combat is barely half the game; it seems to be more focused on making you redirect various liquids and waiting for them to flow to their destinations (hence why this isn’t a good shooter for shooter fans). If two differing liquids collide, they turn into something else; for example, if water and lava touch each other, it turns into dirt, which can be destroyed by shooting at it. I think the game was trying to go for a puzzle vibe, but the only reason why it isn’t instantly obvious which liquids you need to free from their dirt prisons first is because you can’t see the whole room at once and need to fly around a bit to see where everything is. It’s more padding than anything.
Even before that became apparent, the game upset me right off the bat by having momentum-based movement (I really gotta be better at looking for that before I decide to buy a game). In other words, to move, you have to build up speed slowly before reaching your top speed, and if you want to change direction, you’ll still move in the initial direction, but at a slower and slower speed while you slowly increase in speed in the direction you’re now pointing the left stick toward. If you want to reverse direction, you have to slow down, stop, then slowly build up speed going the other way. All that may not sound so bad on paper, but what this means is that attacks that otherwise would be easy to dodge suddenly become deviously difficult because you need to react quick enough for your ship to slowly lumber out of the way. It doesn’t look that hard because everything moves so slow, but everything needs to move that slow in order to give the player enough time to react and get the ship out of the way. Yes, you can boost past your max speed by holding both sticks in the same direction, but not only does this make it harder to stop in time due to the extra momentum (e.g. an enemy suddenly spawns in front of you where there was nothing before), but it also sends your ship to the edge of the screen–in the direction you’re moving, no less–giving you no time to react to any hazards that may be there anyway.
However, it gets worse, because the game does eventually have enemies that move at a slightly-brisk speed, and these are impossible to dodge unless you’re already in motion. This is especially bad for the bosses, but the worst example of this is with the world 4 boss: not only does this world introduce poison water (if touched, the temperature gauge slowly increases until you collide with normal water) and not only does it introduce bubbles (doesn’t hurt you but completely removes control and sends you in the direction you were going until you get out of them), but both of these elements are used in the boss. To be fair, the poison water by itself isn’t that bad since it always sits at the bottom of the arena, but the boss’s pattern has it spit poison water up at you as well as jumping from the poison (both of which are as fast or faster than your max speed), on top of the boss spawning little enemies that also jump from the poison faster than you can move, so the only safe place to stay is right above the poison so you can see where the enemies move, but the boss can also make waves in the poison, so really the only way to get past the boss is trial and error so you already know what its pattern is and how to avoid it. It gets worse when the poison is drained and the entire arena (except for a small area in the center) gets filled with the bubbles that take away your control: now the boss chases you directly, and the only way to damage the boss is to get to it from behind, but the chasing AI is so precise that the only time you can get behind it is if you survive until it transitions into the “pause, then boost forward slightly” phase of its pattern, and even when that does happen, you might not be able to get there in time because your ship is bouncing around the arena out of your control. Yes, there are points you can grapple among the bubbles that has your ship rotate around said grapple points until you let go, but these points disappear for a minute after you use them, and you’re completely screwed if you run out or aim slightly wrong or if the boss happens to be in your way. Yes, shooting the bubbles destroys them, but if more than a few pop, there are generators that spawn more bubbles to replace them. The only thing that prevents this part of the fight from being completely impossible is the fact that getting hit just messes with your temperature gauge rather than killing you outright, but it’s still really common to get hit so frequently that you overheat and die before you can do anything.
Side note: both the poison and the bubbles are dropped completely after world 4. Other elements exclusive to world 4 include eggs (which are like dirt but slowly grow back, which is as annoying as it sounds) and a “muncher” ship that you need to use to get past certain rooms. On one hand, the muncher ship doesn’t have momentum-based movement, but on the other hand, you can’t stand still unless you’re right next to a wall and facing it, you can’t attack enemies directly (you might be able to push a rock on them), your movement is unit-based even though quite a bit of the border isn’t designed with clarity in mind (making it seem like you should be able to go into a space that acts as a wall), and worst of all, the game slows down even more since these rooms are built around digging through white tiles, which fill almost the entire room and require a slow munching animation to play out for every unit you dig through, essentially resulting in a worse version of Boulder Dash. Normally, I’d complain about the game being gimmicky since it introduces things without building on them much, but honestly, I’m glad none of this ended up in the rest of the game because they’re the worst part.
Speaking of not being able to go where you think you should, the game sometimes has secret areas if you travel through an open hall that leads to the border of the room, and these secret areas usually have some extra points and maybe a diamond or two. Other times, there will be what looks like a clear path toward a secret area only for you to be blocked by an invisible wall (sometimes before you even reach the border of the screen).
That certainly isn’t as bad as other parts of the game, but, like, everything in this game has something wrong with it. The game has an online multiplayer mode, but the game tries to connect online the moment you start the game (making it take longer to load), and if you put the Vita in sleep mode while the game is on and you go to play it again, it will sometimes throw up a list of nearby ISP routers while you’re in the middle of the offline single-player campaign (EDIT: though that may be a problem with how the Vita itself works rather than a problem with the game’s Vita port). Even the parts where you have to redirect liquids, despite being the most major part of the game, has issues: most of the liquid will drain if you shoot a hole in the dirt, but there can often be one stray droplet hiding on part of the dirt you didn’t shoot, and if that’s a droplet of lava, it can absolutely still kill you and force you to go though the motions of waiting for the liquids to drain all over again.
So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this game. Not only does it focus on padding most of the time, but when it does have shooting combat, it’s really bad at it.