What Comes Down, Must Go Up

Just about every gamer has played some rendition of Lunar Lander, but sadly, all too few are aware of the way Taito beautifully upped the ante on that formula way back in 1979. I was one of those who remained in the dark all these decades, but no longer — Gamesare has given this ancient classic a nice iOS revival as Solar Rescue Densetsu (Out Now, $0.99)! As in Taito’s Lunar Rescue, the player carefully controls a space capsule that has to touch down on a landing pad to retrieve stranded astronauts, but that’s only the beginning; the real challenge lies in lifting off again and depositing them on a mother ship, repeating the process one-by-one until all are delivered.

By all appearances Lunar Rescue must have felt like Lunar Lander on the way down, and like Galaga on the way back up, the premise being that aggressive aliens were to blame for the astronauts’ dilemma. While Solar Rescue has an unlockable mode that replicates that aspect of the Lunar Rescue experience pretty faithfully, its main levels focus much more on safely navigating wide scrolling environments filled with natural hazards. There are far more asteroids than aliens to be blasted by the landing pod’s plasma gun here.

In another twist on Taito’s original vision, the receiving mother ship doesn’t stop its motion as the rescue pod closes in! Imagine Lunar Lander, but upside down and where the landing pad keeps moving, and you’ll have a pretty good idea how much these exercises make the player appreciate the complexities of space docking. Solar Rescue‘s style alternates between single screen levels where the mother ship keeps moving, and adventurous scrolling levels where it thankfully stays put to give the player’s frayed nerves a rest. Solar Rescue‘s scrolling levels hold much the same appeal as 6th Planet‘s wonderfully crafted space caverns did, but the levels where the mother ship roves back and forth demand the skills of Lunar Lander vets who are looking to take their game to the next level.

Tragically, Solar Rescue‘s controls aren’t doing it any favors upon release. The virtual buttons that control thrusters are sticky in an off-putting way: if the player taps the right button and then trades thrusters without removing his or her right thumb from the screen first, the game will continue responding to the left thumb as if the right button were still being pressed! This put a cramp in my style and makes a considerable difference in tight situations, but the problem can be overcome with careful attention to lifting one’s thumbs from the touchscreen before making course adjustments. If this is solved in updates the game should handle much, much smarter; the physics certainly feel well done otherwise.

Other issues that could use attention in updates are stability during the Asteroids-style bonus mode (one of two, the other unlockable being the aforementioned Galaga-style) and some way of exiting or quickly re-starting levels after pausing. Level completion depends on attempting the rescue of all astronauts, and if the early attempts prove especially unlucky the player’s liable to have so few lives remaining that simply starting over is most tempting.

Solar Rescue‘s visuals do justice to the formula’s retro origin while still being perfectly attractive to the iOS gamer, and its music tracks are well suited to the feel of high-stakes space missions. One thing I could do without is the lift-off sound effect, which makes me feel as if I’ve gotten just a little too close to a real rocket launch. An added visual effect to go along with firing the rescue pod’s lateral thrusters would also be a useful cue to the player. Weighing in at twelve regular levels and two bonus modes, Solar Rescue should be good for three to four hours’ worth of play factoring in retries.

iFanzine Verdict: This one requires some fine tuning – especially in the user interface department – but the sheer novelty of its Lunar Rescue-style gameplay outweighs the sum of its flaws. If you’re a Lunar Lander veteran looking for something fresh, and are willing to contend with controls that feel quirky at first, Solar Rescue Densetsu promises one sweet ride.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]