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Big Bang Mini

Every now and again you get one of these pick-up-and-play games that hits the DS with a bit of a buzz. Games such as Picross, Planet Puzzle League or Brain Age – they offer no story, no real end goal, but they’re simple fun you can carry with you anywhere. Add to that list Big Bang Mini; it offers a straight-forward premise that evolves as you progress, and it’s utterly addictive.

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Let me clear one thing up, however, before I continue. Big Bang Mini (BBM) is not an easy game. Though the game has its own unique twist on the genre, it’s still very much a shoot-`em-up, one that barely waves goodbye to the first round of challenges before turning up the heat. That said, it never becomes frustrating…well, in all honesty, there were many times I barked expletives at my DS due to the rigors of gameplay, but I always kept coming back for more.

When you first boot up the game, you’re presented with a selection of options on the bottom screen – they are as follows: Tutorial (instruction of the basic gameplay), Arcade (the game’s main attraction), Challenge, Versus, Relax, Options, Mission, and an Alarm Clock (yeah, just what it sounds like). Already, you can see that BBM comes complete with a well-rounded variety of things to do, and really, all of the game’s features add something of value to the package.

The Tutorial lays out the basics for players. It’s short, but when it’s is over, you’ll have all the necessary skills to jump right into Arcade mode. Arcade is comprised of nine different themes with nine regular levels and a boss level per theme. In BBM, you control an icon (there are a variety of shapes – a different one with each new theme) by moving it with your stylus. Enemies move around both screens, though mostly on the top screen, and you must avoid the flurry of projectiles they lob at you.

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For your part, you’ll be shooting fireworks at enemies by flicking – in the same way as lighting a match – anywhere on the touch screen (except over your player icon, of course) in the direction you want your fireworks to fly. One of the coolest elements of gameplay is that if your fireworks fail to hit a target, they will explode, and you’ll then be forced to avoid the particles of your own shots, in addition to whatever enemies may be shooting at you.

The first theme of Arcade mode is Hong Kong, and with each new theme, the music, aesthetic and fireworks change. In addition to the change in visuals, the gameplay continues to evolve as you visit new destinations in Arcade. You’ll eventually gain the ability to shoot fireworks that can home in on enemies (by holding either of the DS’ shoulder buttons while firing), as well as charge fireworks (by holding your stylus to the touch screen) to create a multishot. Enemies, too, behave differently as you progress through Arcade, and there are just a ton of neat, little gameplay additions that keep BBM’s levels feeling completely fresh the entire way through.

The levels are bite-sized and perfect for a quick fix, but it’s not long before the game’s difficulty starts to ramp up. The regular levels aren’t too taxing until about the sixth theme, but even the very first boss in the game offers a bona fide challenge. By the time you’re wrapping up Arcade mode, however, things get downright hairy. I’m confident anyone can have fun with the game, as the feel of BBM is just so darn loveable, but the game should, by no means, be written off as “casual.”

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In addition to Arcade, you get a few other gameplay modes, including Challenge and Versus. Challenge is basically a single level where tons of objects come falling down around you. The goal is simply to avoid and shoot objects for as long as possible, racking up as many points as you can in the process. You can upload your best scores to an online ranking system, and it’s one of those deals that will likely appeal to the oldest of old-school, shoot-`em-up lovers. Versus mode allows you to hook up with another person locally for a bit of competitive multiplayer, and only one card is required – a plus for any DS game, really.

The BBM package is rounded out by a handful of simple yet very cool additions. The Relax mode, for instance, allows you to either watch or manually shoot off fireworks from the various themes in Arcade. There’s no real purpose to it other than…well, to relax. It’s a nice, little bonus that fits snugly in with the rest of what the game has to offer. There’s also a Mission mode, and it basically tasks you with completing levels from Arcade, though with added challenges attached, such as “complete such-and-such level within in 60 seconds,” or “finish the level without hitting any clouds.” Lastly, there’s an alarm clock (yup). It works in almost the exact same way as the DS’ built-in alarm clock, but you can use any of the songs from the game as your wake-up call.

Most of those extra features must first be unlocked via the Arcade mode, and though we can appreciate the notion of a reward system, this will undoubtedly keep some players from getting at all of the content available in the game. Some of the later levels in Arcade are sure to force at least a few folks to walk away from BBM, and it’s a shame they won’t be able to enjoy everything they’ve paid for. Still, players are getting a hefty package here – including graphic art at the end of each level for completing bonus stages – and those folks who are able to enjoy everything Arcade has to offer will be treated to a small treasure trove of gaming goodness.

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In addition to BBM’s creative gameplay and breadth of features, the game has a stellar presentation. The levels in Arcade mode feature polished 3D backgrounds and really stylish 2D sprites and artwork. The fireworks are fun and vibrant, and the game expresses a great sense of humor through its visuals and music. The menu screens, too, are the epitome of “slick,” and there’s just no denying that the game’s production values play a huge role in the level of enjoyment offered here.

The aural compliments are equally satisfying and really make the most of the DS’ technical capabilities. The tunes are all MIDI, yet they’re fun and add a great vibe to the game. Best of all, though, the sound effects are punchy and match up perfectly with the fireworks and other gameplay visuals.

Big Bang Mini retails for $20, and it’s truly a lot of “bang” for your buck. There’s a ton of fun and a ton of style crammed into this card, and ultimately, the game lives up to its name – it’s a big bang of enjoyment on your tiny DS screens. If you’re worried it’s too hard, don’t. You can sample it at your own pace. If you’re not a shooter fan per se, this game still has something to offer you. It’s not an epic adventure, nor is it a revolution in DS gaming. But Big Bang Mini is still one of the best games to show up so far this year, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value anywhere else.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2008.

Gentle persuasion

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