If you are an iOS device owner, it seems like now is a great time to be a retro gaming fan. A couple of weeks ago, Massive Finger and Robotalism Games released a “pixel shooter” called MECAPIX. At first glance it is easy to see the obvious influences of Space Invaders and Tetris, as you battle descending block formations (called MECAs) on a gridded battlefield. Destroying these evil MECAs is as simple as touching a grid square or drawing a horizontal line (within the designated firing zone at the bottom of screen) to launch your munition(s) toward the enemy. The fired block(s) will travel up the grid, and decimate the first block (or Pix) that it makes contact with. The game plays out in waves, with the MECAs getting faster, smarter and more evolved.

The MECAs start out just coming straight down, usually giving you plenty of advanced warning where you need to fire (except for a few speedy ones). In later levels, the onesie, twosie MECA block formations are supplemented with larger and more interesting groupings with more erratic movement and personality (yes I said personaility!). Some MECAs start moving side to side sporadically, but if you can manage to hit one of the Pix in these laterally moving MECAs, you will halt its sideways movement, making its remaining Pix a bit easier target. Others will require multiple direct hits before they are destroyed, or are indestructible on their own and must be taken out by a special power-up. These power-ups blocks, which when destroyed, result in unique behaviors, and include bombs, lasers, reverse gravity and more. The lasers, perhaps my favorite, when hit shoot out a laser beam in its indicated direction, destroying any enemies along that line. The bomb, is good at taking out a wide berth of Pix surrounding it.

The game currently consists of two gameplay modes: Adventure and Endurance. In Adventure mode, there are three “worlds” (sky, forest, city), each with about 10 waves that can be played in either easy or normal difficulty settings. Endurance mode gives players a choice of easy, normal or hard settings. No matter which mode you choose, your goal is pretty much the same, score lots of points and stay alive as long as possible. The way to do the latter is to keep the falling blocks from crossing the bottom of the screen. For every block that breaches the bottom of the screen, your health meter is reduced by one point, lose all your health, and it’s game over.

Normally in this style of arcade shooter you’d have a limitless supply of bullets, but not in MECAPIX. The developers have actually come up with a fairly nice (though sometimes curse inducing) system, whereby you have a limited number of “bullet” blocks which can be fired at any given time and you need to wait for these to slowly (sometimes painfully) regenerate over time. Therefore, a spray and pray tactic will simply not work. In fact, each wave is graded on a three star scale, and being frugal with your munitions and making optimal use of the lasers, will go a long way toward helping you earn those three star ratings. My one frustration with the regeneration is that it wasn’t clear exactly when I’d get my bullets back, there really needs to be some sort of countdown indicator to make this more calculable (or if there is one already, it needs to be more visible).

The development team should be commended for taking such a simple graphical style and giving it a good deal of character with some little nuances. For instance, the laterally moving MECAs are portrayed in a really cool effect that reminded me of a those short sketches you’d see in Sesame Street where inanimate objects are moving around the screen, seemingly on their own. Also when you destroy an attacking MECA, there is an awesome, subtle (at times) change in the color of the grid squares vacated by the departed pixels, making it look like a light blood stain left behind. The game’s simple, but elegant graphics are complimented nicely by the equally retro, but reserved soundtrack which sounds particularly good through a set of earbuds.

In Conclusion

MECAPIX is a solid arcade shooter that while drawing inspiration from arcade classics like Space Invaders and Tetris, succeeds in creating a retro feeling game with it’s own sense of style and character. There were times when I felt like the controls didn’t quite keep up with my fingers, but this wasn’t enough of a nuisance to take away from my overall enjoyment of the game. Game Center leaderboards, per-level star ratings and an Endurance mode foster a good deal of replay value, so for just 99¢ you really can’t go wrong with MECAPIX.