One good thing about writing game reviews is that you can't help but give a game a second chance. If I had played the demo of Ion Assault, I would have probably played it for five minutes before passing it over.
My first impressions of this game were completely wrong. At a glance, it would be easy to write this off as a cross between Geometry Wars and Asteroids. Now I love Asteroids knock offs; done well they are all about speed and momentum. At first Ion Assault seems slow and confusing. Rapid fire is completely useless, and if you want to deal any damage in this game you will need to charge your shots.
This ended up with me evading while getting off the odd charged shot. Combined with particles and orbs being sucked towards me and hiding the odd threat such as a rouge missile, this lead to a lot of early and frustrating deaths to start off with. After a few more rounds though, something started to click. The controls suddenly seemed fluid and I started playing much more aggressively, figuring out that moving around the playing field collecting particles to charge your attack is good. Eventually I also figured out how to absorb splash back particles from my charge shots, allowing me another charge shot almost instantly. You also start to realise that while you need to clear the asteroids, they are actually harmless and you need to reassess priorities. Once the pieces start to fit together you will want to play again and again to better your score - some of the scores on the game's leader boards are simply unreal.
As previously hinted at, the controls take a little getting used to. To begin with I always thought my ship was facing the other way! Also the charge shots and enemies take a little getting used to. Early on you won't know how much to charge your shots, but as you play you will get a much better idea of how much power is required for each situation. With a little practice you will soon be stringing together combos and multiple scores.
Most of the game's longevity is from beating your scores, as the single player campaign isn't huge and the multiplayer modes seem to be somewhat of an afterthought. Co-op is a blast, but if one player dies early, there are no continues to jump back into the game. It can get a little hard to tell what's going on when your ships are on other ends of the play field too - forcing the camera to zoom out. Otherwise stealing particles, or even better playing catch with them will keep you amused for a few rounds.
A little less amusing is the VS mode. Each player has a base which charges up during game play. At any point you can set a way point between your base and a rivals base to send out a group of kamikaze ships. Just make sure no objects are in the way, or these will destroy your entire fleet. Also keep an eye out for other players waiting to intercept these craft. Blasting other players causes no damage, but you can temporarily disable their weapons leaving their base defenceless. I have only played this with a couple of players, but I imagine things get pretty crazy four-player. All up the multiplayer is an entertaining distraction, but nothing more.
Graphically the game is gorgeous. Everything is coloured in an old-school neon kind of way, but with a modern, high def sheen. The game handles a lot going on and each arena has its own look. Sure, sometimes there is a little too much going on, and there isn't a huge amount of enemy types, but seeing this game in action is a welcome treat for for your much abused eyeballs. The sound is deliciously old school too, but not anything to write home about.
Ion Assault is a well presented package that is a blast for short plays. It doesn't have as much meat as some other XBLA games, but I do see myself firing it up every now and again to kill some precious minutes (and asteroids). If you are a sucker for arcade gameplay and/or shoot 'em ups Ion Assault is definitely worth checking out.