Astro Shark HD (out now, $0.99) by Unit9 is an immensely challenging adventure masquerading as a serene space ride accompanied by peaceful music. Astro Shark, the hero, is a shark with, I’m guessing, some killer whale blood in him. Somehow, he fell in love with Laika, a Russian space dog. And when Laika is kidnapped, off goes Astro Shark in a race to save her.

unnamedUsing the gravitational pull of surrounding planets, you’ll control Astro Shark’s flight course with simple taps. The tutorial may trick you into believing this is a straightforward, leisurely game. You’ll fly from one planet to another, orbiting some, until you reach your destination. However, once the missiles start attacking, the game’s anything but easy.

The graphics are stylish but minimalist, and the music is deceptively relaxing. Hostile missiles, however, make for a grueling gameplay. Once one hits you (or rather, Astro Shark), you’ve got to start the level all over from the beginning. This unforgiving nature of the game may put some off, though gamers who live for challenges may love it all the more for it. It’s a pity the game offers no choice of difficulty levels.

In each level you’re given three goals to meet, but making it alive to the faraway planet that’s set as your destination can be a big enough challenge on its own. Some planets explode after you orbit them, and you’ve got to be fast to evade the missiles that home in on you, sometimes in clusters. Luckily, there are a few ways to temporarily rid yourself of missiles. If you happen to encounter frozen planets (not available in all levels), you can orbit them to send out an icy shockwave that will freeze nearby missiles. While they’re frozen, you can destroy the missiles by colliding into them. Fine-tuning Astro Shark’s flight trajectory is, however, yet another tricky matter. In some levels, you can also make use of scattered mines.

iFanzine Verdict: Astro Shark HD is a beautiful game with a tranquil setting and music, but actual gameplay can get immensely daunting. Those who dislike repeating levels over and over again to get through (or at least until mastering the game mechanics) may find it too demanding and feel like calling it quits. Yet for the same reason, avid gamers may find this well-made game exciting and addictive.