There's no reason to beat around the bush, Big Bang Mini is without a doubt one of the best shooters to come out in the last ten years. It's a brilliant mix of contemporary and retro that comes together to create a game that is unlike anything you've seen before, yet instantly recognizable to anybody that grew up loving the classic 2D shoot-em-up. Don't let the silly name and gimmicky cover fool you, Big Bang Mini is the first must-own game this year for the Nintendo DS.
At its core Big Bang Mini is a combination of last year's brilliant Space Invaders Extreme and the PlayStation 2 fireworks simulator Fantavision. You play the game by taking control of a small shape (it can be a triangle, circle, whatever), however you don't take control in a traditional sense. To move you have to touch and drag the ship using the Nintendo DS's touch screen. On top of this, your ship doesn't actually shoot any bullets. Instead your ship is just there to dodge space debris, bullets, bad guys and all sorts of other crazy obstacles.
Instead of shooting bullets or some other boring sci-fi cliche, Big Bang Mini incorporates the use of ... fireworks? That's right, you shoot fireworks, which explode and give you objects to dodge. Of course, you won't have to worry about dodging the firework debris if you make direct hits with your weapon of choice. Interestingly enough, all of the shooting is done by you drawing a line on the touch screen. Basically it's your job to draw a line in the direction of your enemies (which are almost always on the top screen), all while dodging everything on the bottom screen. In other words, you have to worry about firing and moving your little ship around all at the same time, which can certainly become a hectic and frustrating situation.
You do all this in a series of different cities from all around the world. You start in Hong Kong, but you quickly move to Aurora, New York, Rio De Janeiro, Paris and four other cities. Each of these cities has nine levels (and a boss battle), each with their own set of bad guys and obstacles. For example, in a cold Aurora you have to worry about the wind pushing your fireworks away from your enemies. In another level you'll have to keep track of moving walls that decrease the amount of playing room you have. The game is full of fun surprises, all of which force you to play the game just a little different from city to city.
Better still, the levels themselves look spectacular and are full of personality. I loved the techno styling of the Egyptian-themed Luxor, while the snowy levels brought animals playing hockey. The game constantly throws you for a loop. No matter how many times I died in a given level, I kept wanting to move forward just to see what the game would throw at me next. These are not the traditional good looking graphics, instead its their art design that really sells the whole package. Big Bang Mini is not afraid to take a few risks, and it pays off in the end.
Whatever you do, don't take the cutesy graphics to mean that Big Bang Mini is an easy game. While it's nowhere near as challenging as certain versions of R-Type or Ikaruga, this 2D shooter can play with the best of them. Part of the challenge comes with just remembering that you aren't always in control of your craft. That is, you're constantly having to pay attention to what is happening on the top screen, while also making sure to not get hit by debris on the bottom screen. Things get even more tricky when enemies start invading the lower screen. Throw in a few challenging, but always interesting bosses and you have a shooter for anybody that likes old school shoot-em-ups. And considering the difference in control, I wouldn't be surprised if many fans found this to be more rewarding than recent titles like R-Type Dimensions.
On top of the game's lengthy story mode, Big Bang Mini also features a number of cool extra modes. For one thing each level features a mildly amusing bonus game. Plus, once you've beaten the arcade mode, you can check out the Missions mode, which gives you a variety of fun challenges to complete. For example, in one level you'll only have a few shots. Or another challenge may require you to make every shot, which is no easy task. Unfortunately you do this on levels you've already played, but the game's randomness makes this a little easier to swallow.
Better still is the game's entertaining multiplayer modes. The game gives you a couple of different ways to interact with the outside world. For starters, there's the Challenge mode, which has you earning points in an all-new set of levels. Once you've completed these levels you will be able to upload your score and compare yourself to your friends and the rest of the world. If that's not enough for you, Big Bang Mini also features a versus mode, which has you turning the system sideways and volley fireworks back and forth. This is a fun diversion, but it's nowhere near as exciting as the actual arcade mode. If that's too much action for you then why not check out the Relax mode (where you create and watch firework shows) and Alarm Clock mode.
There's a lot to love in Big Bang Mini, especially at the $20 asking price. The gameplay is not only unique, but addictive as hell. It shocks me that nobody had decided to make a shooter like this before; it feels like a classic shooter, only with gameplay that you couldn't have even dreamed about ten years ago. Big Bang Mini is a must-buy, no matter if you're a fan of shooters or not. This is one Nintendo DS game that you can't pass up.