Arc the Star Marine picked a bad section of space to shortcut through, and now he’s found himself imprisoned by a mass of robotic aliens. Fortunately these robots forgot the first rule of capturing a space trooper: don’t leave him with his standard issue assault rifle! Arc’s determined to show his captors just how large an error they made, and his effort to lay waste to their entire home world is chronicled in Star Marine: Infinite Ammo (Out Now, $1.99).
You’d be forgiven if you mistake GlitchSoft’s third iOS title for a Contra port while browsing the screenshots. However, you’ll be better served if you think of Star Marine as a dual-stick shooter smushed into side-scrolling perspective: a right-hand virtual joystick controls firing direction, leaving the left-hand joystick to govern movement only. Longtime Contra fans may find that this takes a little getting used to, but it allows for running backward while shooting — which may be the coolest thing to hit the run-and-gun genre since the flamethrower. In another purposeful quirk, Arc hangs in midair for an incredible stretch of time as long as the player holds on the fire joystick while jumping. This further helps the player keep enemies in Arc’s gun sights.
Speaking of flamethrowers, it’s fair to say that a side-scrolling shoot ’em up rides on the weaponry it sets in the player’s hands, and Star Marine is no slouch here. The expected implements of destruction are all on tap; the trusty flamethrower, spread gun and homing missile will feel quite familiar to genre fans. More innovative weapons include a grenade launcher with bouncing munitions and something that can only be likened to the famous Ghostbusters proton pack, filling the screen with impressive plasma arcs that bounce from enemy to enemy. Each weapon can be upgraded for better power or range, and Arc himself can gain a dash, a longer health bar, and other perks through the same system. Contrary to the game’s name, only Arc’s default weapon can be fired infinitely. An ammunition meter gradually ticks down for the alternate weapon – Arc carries only two at a time – so you’ll have to budget its use and hope a compatible ammo pickup lies down the road.
A weapon upgrade system would have been the cherry on top of the best Contras in my opinion, but the way it’s implemented in Star Marine will make it a divisive issue. Whereas the Contra formula typically let the player pick up any of the game’s weapons, Star Marine has the player spending earned gems to unlock them one by one. On the one hand, this is a great way for achievements to feed back into gameplay. On the other, the weapon unlock prices are pretty lofty, so players are unlikely to get a taste of all of them during an initial playthrough.
Gems can be traded for real-world cash as expected, but GlitchSoft also offers a particularly interesting alternative: you can summon up a 16-second ad from the IAP menu and find an extra gem waiting for you once it’s finished. This can be repeated indefinitely at present, so in theory, if you’re willing to replay a commercial until your eyes bleed, you could build a full arsenal in about ten minutes. My concern is how this third path would seem to cheapen the work the player otherwise has to put into Star Marine’s upgrade system, but I do have to give this technique some tongue-in-cheek credit for being the first thing that actually made me remember the content of an in-game ad. Expendable items that keep the player going after running out of health or falling into a pit also require gems, but the game provides you with at least one of each by default. That feels fair enough relative to the level sizes, generous spread of health-recharging pickups, and Arc’s spectacular floating ability.