Last year celebrated Independence from Cubes, this year, Freedom from Meteorites.
Planetary Shield by Axouxere Games is an arcade game that uses energy balls to destroy incoming meteorites headed for earth. While the game presents an interesting premise, Planetary Shield needs some tweaking before it can truly be enjoyed.
The game asks you to shoot down meteorites headed for Earth using energy balls shot from a slingshot-esq device. You aim much as you would in Angry Birds and press a button to confirm the direction and fire the shot. As meteorites make it past your defenses to crash into Earth, the surrounding shield slowly breaks downs. When the final blow strikes, the billions of people left on the planet will suffer catastrophic tsunamis and a dust cloud that will completely engulf the sky. To avoid the grisly demise, several spaceships attempt to make a break from the planet and will sometimes need assistance and guidance to safely leave the perpetually doomed planet.
The gameplay itself is simple enough in premise – you use the slingshot to break up the meteorites. The firing mechanism does not feel completely right, but the oddity is subtle and can eventually be gotten used to. The most awkward positions occur when firing horizontally to the slingshot, as these tend to miss more times than other positions.
Now, the ships on the other hand are a different story. Continuing on in the game is largely dependent on ensuring those ships leave the planet safely. I played the first level for a good 20 minutes because the ships were not reaching their proper destination. This folly is mostly due to four problems.
- The game’s instructions are not entirely clear on what needs to be done to advance, which is not to blast all the meteorites out of the sky, but to make sure the ships reach the exit safely
- The ship is slightly difficult to maneuver in a meteorite field, and I was unable to clear a path on some occasions
- My ability to efficiently hit meteorites once the ship showed on screen
- My TV screen does not display the entire game field , which hides the exit on the extreme edges of the map.
Number four is without a doubt the most frustrating aspect of Planetary Shield. The best part of this conundrum is I probably would not have even noticed it if I did not stumble onto the second level. After a few more tries to blindly recreate a level advancement, I started to scan trailers in the hope I would find a ship docking or escaping. Fortunately, I did.
This kind of oversight, while seemingly small, can greatly hinder a game and its success. This is borderline broken gameplay. Roby Atadero, a programmer for Obsidian Entertainment and creator of Spoids, mentioned this type of oversight in a Tales from the Dev Side he did for Cathy Vice, who recently celebrated her second year as the Indie Gamer Chick (Congrats again Cathy, and happy belated birthday as well). This is a snippet of what Atadero said.
A lot of TVs actually don’t show the entire image that is projected to the screen. When it comes to 720p/1080i HDTVs or old CRT TVs, a handful of the screen around the edges isn’t actually shown. Thus, important game elements shouldn’t be displayed on the direct edges of the screen space. Otherwise, they might get cut off. Typically, you want to keep a five percent border on each side of your screen free of anything important the gamer would need to see. Thus, the inner 90% of your screen space is called your “safe zone”.
See the problem putting this essential bit of information on the outer edges of the screen can cause. The worst part is the problem is fixable. Several games include the ability to adjust the size of the screen, and Planetary Shield would benefit immensely from the ability as well. The game could also enlarge the depth of the exit or simply make it more visible toward the center of the screen.
So, once I figured out the existence of this exit and moved to a TV where the problem was still present but not as prevalent, I enjoyed the game much more. And then I wanted to make lunch.
The second biggest problem with Planetary Shield is the pause button. I don’t know why, but on several occasions, when I paused the game, the game would end. The whole ordeal sort of felt like a kill switch for a given play though. Now, the insta-death did not happen on every pause. On many instance, the pause button worked as it was designed to. That, unfortunately, is another small issue with the pause mechanism. An overwhelmingly vast majority of games use the B as the back button to resume a paused game, or at the very least make sure hitting the B button won’t end the game. Planetary Shield however, does not. So, although the fact B is clearly labeled to quit the game, sometimes people are not thinking when they return from lunch to continue a game and will press B instinctively.
So, once you move to a TV that will display the game at its appropriate size and ensure that you will not need to leave your spot for several hours on end, you can start to appreciate the actual game.
The ability to balance clearing the meteorites and guiding the ship to safety become daunting at times. Varying classes of meteorites start filling up the screen. Some fast and small. Some large and robust. Some are just there. Planetary Shield has a co-op mode to play through as well.
Planetary Shield clearly has breadth and substance; there is just too much junk cluttering up the experience. A few tweaks here and there and the game would be golden.
Enjoy Freedom from Meteorites Day; just do me a favor and don’t set off any more M-80s.
And because every July 4th needs a viewing of Independence Day…