Meltdown (out now, $1.99) is a game by Phenomenon Games and BulkyPix that I strongly urge you to buy. Is it because it looks great, controls well, and is absurdly fun? Well, yes, but there are more selfish reasons for my plea. You see, the real draw of Meltdown is the online co-op, and while there are plenty of other players at all hours of the day, I just want it to last forever. I want an unlimited amount of people to blast robots with for months or even years to come, and I want Phenomenon to make a killing and update the crap out of this wonderful, surprising little game.

screen480x480Of course, co-op would be useless if the game itself wasn’t any fun, and as I already mentioned it’s very, very fun. You play as a space marine descending through 30 levels of a massive space station. Your mission? Shoot robots in their stupid, robot-y faces. It’s not all run-and-gun, though, as there’s also a nicely done cover mechanic that shields you from most enemy fire when you crouch behind a barrier. Everything about it feels great, though the game does get rather brutal fairly early on, especially when you start getting swarmed by grenade throwers.

Helping you rise to the challenge is a rich and surprisingly deep upgrade tree for your hero’s skills and each of the 15 available weapons. See, these robots you’re destroying are apparently full of coins and computer chips, which you can collect and use to buy and upgrade weapons. It’s a great system and feels perfectly balanced, so you’re never getting too much or needing to grind.

Controlling the game is a snap with the two available schemes: “Touch” lets you tap where you want to move, double tap to roll, and swipe or hold the screen to melee. “Virtual Controls” is exactly what it sounds like, with a stick to move and an extra button for melee and rolls. Both methods have a dedicated fire button with auto-aim. (This means that you have less control over where to aim, but you won’t mind one bit when you’re circle-strafing around enemies with ease.) Both control methods work well and choosing the best is entirely up to personal preference, but for me it demonstrated an interesting phenomenon I’ve seen in a few iOS games: the more novel default method is more satisfying, but the virtual control option is much, much easier to win with. So while “Touch” felt very natural to me and I enjoyed holding my iPad with one hand and directing the action with the other, ultimately I had to switch to the floating d-pad to pass later levels. (It should also be noted there is a third mode, “Gamepad”, but seeing as there are only two MFi controllers on the market currently and they’re both $100 I was unable to test this.)

screen480x480Too often games like this come out with multiplayer advertised but unable to deliver anything fun. Whether it’s endless connection times, empty lobbies, or crippling lag, there’s almost always something to throw a wet blanket on the proceedings. Well, I’m extremely happy to say Meltdown manages to avoid nearly all of these problems and provide one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had on iOS. The secret is in how they managed to streamline everything: There’s a simple toggle — “Online” or “Offline” — on the mission select screen, and that’s it. Just flip that switch and choose whatever mission you were going to play by yourself anyway, and most likely someone (or several people, for a total of 4) will pop into your game as you play and help you out. No annoying notifications, no prompts, no fuss. You’re by yourself, and then you’re not. I found myself thinking, Why aren’t more games like THIS? You can also choose to pop into someone else’s game, if you like, by hitting the “Join” tab. As I write this there are 41 players online, and I’ve seen that number go much, much higher.

However, as fun as it is to destroy robot after robot with buddies, it’s not all sunshine and Rosies. For one thing, I experienced quite a few crashes when trying to join other people’s games. Luckily it never happened when I’d start my own game, no matter how many people joined in, but it’s still a problem. Also, if I may pick a nit,  the current system of switching weapons with two buttons at the bottom center of the screen is awkward. Another issue with the game is that most levels look pretty much identical. Despite each one being somewhat randomly generated, you’re going to see the same stuff over and over. Along with some new environments, I’d love to see some new modes added down the line. Maybe an endless horde mode, or some online deathmatch. Of course, that’s just me being greedy. You’re already getting a hell of a deal for 2 bucks.

So there you have it: Meltdown is a game you need to own. Do it for yourself, do it for Phenomenon and BulkyPix. Mostly, though, do it for me. I’m having some trouble with the last few missions and would love some assistance. Thank you.

iFanzine Verdict: Phenomenon Games’ Meltdown is a fantastic shooter that boasts great controls, a surprising amount of depth, and a brilliant online component. It gets a bit repetitive and has a few bugs here and there, but those are relatively small complaints when it gets so much right. For $1.99 it’s an absolute steal.