(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played, and our Site Score also reflects the game’s original state. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)

Red Falcon. Dr. Wily. Crackman? The bad guy who stands in the player’s way in Clash Force (Out Now, $0.99) will surely become the butt of many jokes, yet one can’t complain that he’s a poor level architect. Spicy Gyro’s platformer debut feels custom-made to take you down memory lane if you grew up with an NES controller in hand!

We’ve come to appreciate just how difficult it’s been for iOS devs to replicate console controls; like many before them, Spicy Gyro opt for a two-button movement scheme. This leaves Clash Force unable to adopt the multi-directional shooting that made Contra famous, even if it takes direct inspiration from that elder series’ one-hit-and-you-lose-it weapon pickups. Many devs would have left it at that, but Spicy Gyro have an ingenious trick up their sleeves: they let Mega Man-style level design fill in the fun factor gap, and the result is glorious. From springboards, to giant roadblock minibosses, to auto-scrolling segments that demand real finesse to get jump shots and pickup collection right, Clash Force doesn’t let up on interesting things to throw at the player.

Challenge is sky-high here, but Clash Force offers separate difficulties and serves its levels in short bursts that are reasonably surmountable with enough practice. The game’s boss battles are especially well crafted. Like Mega Man bosses, they follow certain attack patterns that the player can learn to exploit; but on the other hand, their patterns evolve as the boss’ health meter wears down and in response to the player’s tactics, lending them just the right dash of unpredictability to keep things interesting.

Clash Force features three player characters. I got my hopes up for gameplay differences, each getting their own weapons to toy with perhaps — the range of pickups feels pretty limited as it is. Sadly the characters’ only purpose seems to be giving the player a different commando dude to stare at for now.

The game’s interface feels robust at first blush, but the longer I spent traipsing around Clash Force’s awesome levels, the more I noticed some shortcomings. Most importantly, the touch response areas of its movement buttons feel just as thin as the control strip at the bottom of the screen would suggest; some vertical heightening of the response areas would be a big help in updates. With this much level scrolling a ton of importance falls on the right movement button, which can make the presence of the pause button beside it problematic. In short, thumb drift becomes a greater nemesis than all of the enemies taking pot shots at you from every direction. On a more general note, the game’s jump physics are well suited for taking out foes on high but it’s difficult to make small hops that might be needed to clear platforms that are only slightly raised. It is worth mentioning that the former case is much more common than the latter.

Like ye olde Mega Man, Clash Force is a great show of how impressive good tile art can be, and all the plasma shots flying around have a neat glow to them. The game’s music feels suited to its environments but falls short of capturing the memorable beats the best of the NES era had to offer.

iFanzine Verdict: A mashup of Contra and Mega Man that will get retro platforming fans and challenge seekers raving — as long as they aren’t sticklers for pitch-perfect controls. If you’re in its target audience and are even just a little forgiving of typical virtual button issues, it’s a great title to pop a buck on.

Addendum: Improved controls.