The top 10 most downloaded DSi Ware games in Australia and New Zealand (in alphabetical order) are...
A Little Bit of... Dr. Mario
Asphalt 4: Elite Racing
Guitar Rock Tour
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!
Master of Illusion Express: Funny Face
The reason I open with this information is because I have no idea how long I can spin out a review for the latest 500 pointer in the DSi Shop, Metal Torrent. This is one of the shortest legitimate games I have ever played. After I was through, I checked the load screen again to see if it had "A little bit of..." in front of it; maybe, I thought, I didn't have the full version. Actually. No. Yes. No. It was the full version. I could hardly believe it.
The core gameplay is great: very arcade-y, lots of explosions, fast moving enemies and a laser that pours out of the front of your ship in bright coloured streams. It actually reminds me quite a bit of the old Silkworm (side scrollers - was there a top scroller? I think there might have been...) titles on my Amiga back in the dayz. Metal Torrent is a top scrolling shooter in which you take the role of either the Red Orion or Blue Nova spacecraft. You basically hold down the fire button as you move (without any control over your forward momentum) through a range of 'phases'. In each phase, you have to blast the crap out of a host of enemies. At the end, there are bosses.
You can choose to play either a pattern or random mode, which changes up how the enemies move (in patterns, or, wait for it, randomly). While you can't slow the overall progression of the environment, you can move backwards, forwards and side to side within it, which will help you to engage your enemies. In the pattern mode, you need to do little more than fly from side to side (and if you are playing in the Red Orion, i.e. easy mode) the action is mindless. Simple, and therefore, sort of beautiful. When an enemy ship explodes, it releases cubes which you collect to refill your power/health bar. Your power bar dictates whether you're able to use your bombs (Red Orion) or powerful photon laser type deal in the Blue Nova. Although you won't be able to use these features if your bar runs out, the enemies are so thick in the air that there is never a shortage. In the easy mode, your bombs can convert enemy fire into cubes (no really, that's what they're called) so this is a ticky-tack irrelevance when it comes to the way the game operates.
Actually - can I just put a bit of a question mark around the whole power bar/health bar thing? I have played through the game a couple of times, and it's very difficult to tell whether it represents one, other, or both. Regardless, I still maintain it doesn't matter.
Things get a bit more tricky in the Blue Nova, where the difficulty is listed as "maniac". There is no middle ground. This is the only real challenge in the game, but will probably give you a bit of trouble after you've completed the Red Orion mission (about 15 minutes each for the pattern and random modes). If this was really all there was, you'd have to write the whole thing off as a cruel joke.
Fortunately, the game includes online leaderboards, which will record your best scores across each of the different game mode combos (if you have done the math properly, you'll have worked out there are four) and line you up against the best in the world. When I logged on, I was low on a pretty big list, so it's great to see there are plenty of people out there playing, even if they are only doing so for frustratingly short periods of time.
On that note, let's recap: Metal Torrent will provide you, at first, with a woefully short amount of gameplay - let's say about an hour at the absolute top end. If you go back (and you might) you might extend this by a half hour each time. You can play the pattern mode as either Red Orion (stupidly easy) or Blue Nova (harder) or the random mode as the Red Orion (stupidly easy, just more random) or the Blue Nova (same amount of harder, just more random).
The visuals are sound, without being very whizzbang, but you can tell when you download the thing that it's a pretty small package. The ships look like ships, and the explosions look like explosions, or possibly marigolds. Either way, everything from the menus to the enemies to the ridiculously copious streams of energised ammo all look very futuristic and technology-based. As far as the overall feel of the game goes, it sets an adequate scene. The sound is pretty much the same: it does a job. The graphics and sound here are like the window cleaners and ticket-booth operators of this world; you need them to perform a task, but they're not sexy.
Really, there's not much here, and for 500 points I can think of plenty of better examples. Read Alan's recent, Starship Patrol review, and for your own sake download the game, for a truly decent outing in the DSi Shop. Just don't expect that same kind of stark wonderment from Metal Torrent.