Planet Protector: Captain (save the) Planet
Now this is much more MY kind of spinny-roundy-planet-defending game. While far less arty than Blue (“Defence” – Ed) Second Wave, Planet Protector (free) is no less evocative. The specific thing it evokes is the world of early-1980s arcade games, in particular those made by Taito and Namco.
While in essence the exact same game as BD:SW – you rotate around a central planet, stopping things from crashing into it by shooting them with a gun, Planet Protector offers more fun and more depth but for less money. 100% less money, in fact.
The rules are simple. If the planet gets hit enough times, you lose. You can save the planet by ramming objects with your ship – you have infinite lives – but at the cost of losing the ability to move for a few seconds. Destroyed enemies may drop one of two powerups (three-way bullets or homing missiles, both of which last a few short seconds each whether you fire them or not) or a bonus-points capsule. In addition to points, the latter contain most of the game’s strategy.
Because the thing about the points capsules is that while the first one you collect is worth a mere 100 points, each successive one you collect without missing any nets you 200, then 400, then 800, 1600, 3200 and finally 5000 if you get seven in a row. But let any get past you and you’re straight down to 100 again - a prospect that’s likely to prove disastrous to your high score ambitions. Why? Because the enemy onslaught ramps up so fast that soon you’ll have no time to carefully plan a way of getting every points capsule, so you need to pile up the points as fast as you can in the early stages.
And what THAT means is that you not only have to avoid the dangerous space baddies, but also half of your own powerups, because the homing missiles smush enemies so enthusiastically that you’ll never be able to collect the barrage of bonus capsules they create without missing some.
A typical game of Planet Protector, then, takes the form of two two-minute chunks – a calm but tense first half where you try to put the score counter into overdrive and every missed bonus capsule effectively costs you about 20 seconds of maximum-points time, followed by a frenzied second half where you spray out indiscriminate blind death like a drunk machine-gunner in a waltzer, grabbing points in juicy little clutches whenever they present themselves while desperately trying to keep your planet intact in the face of a ferocious and ever-intensifying assault-blizzard.
Where PP triumphs over BD:SW is that it gives you decisions to make, which is the blood pumping in the veins of arcade gaming. Where Cat In A Bag’s beautiful vector painting rarely gives you much choice over where you need to go and what you need to shoot, in Planet Protector you’re in a constant dilemma – risk the homing missiles early on to kill more enemies quickly and hope you can get all the bonus capsules? Spin right round the planet for a far-away triple-shot powerup that could pay off bigtime in bonus-dropping alien carnage, but at the cost of letting an asteroid probably take an irreplaceable chunk out of your precious homeworld? (Which you’re inevitably going to lose anyway.) And so on, from the first seconds of every game to the cataclysmic end.
I love this game. The control system (tap anywhere onscreen and your ship will automatically take the quickest route to get there, but you have to keep tapping to keep firing) is a little odd at first, but after a couple of games you’ll be swooping around like a Red Arrow on holiday. Unsullied by ads except a strangely-occasional banner on the title screen, it seems to be one of those games that the developer has made solely for love – it’s been a freebie since the day it was released. So passing it by wouldn’t only be stupid, it’d be downright rude.