If 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, then 2011 was the Year of the Yak. Programming veteran Jeff Minter turned his bearded head towards Apple's devices, cranked up his Minotaur Project, and Llamasoft turned out four new games. It was like 1983 all over again.
Of course, anyone with a knack for code could knock out four games in a year, but that wouldn't mean they would necessarily be any good. Of Llamasoft's games, three of them were genuine contenders for this list. The only one that wasn't, for me personally, was trippy puzzler Deflex. There's nothing wrong with that game, in fact I do quite enjoy it, but I'm not very good at it and, well, there were at least eleven games I enjoyed more.
Whooo, bendy bullets!
The other two games that missed the list were Minotron: 2112, an excellent reworking of Minter's Atari ST classic Llamatron, and Goat Up, the first ever Llamasoft platform game. Minotron is a twin-stick Robotron-inspired shooter that sees you blasting all manner of bizarre and hostile objects, including telephones, footballs, bags of chips and the like. Goat Up brought to mind Rainbow Islands, as it scattered untold amounts of bonus goodies your way as you leapt ever upward (and eventually downward). They're very good indeed, but I'll write separate posts about them at a later date.
But the game I chose to put on the list, the game that is not out of place in any way at number two, is Minotaur Rescue.
It's a hybrid of many games, is Minotaur Rescue. It looks just like the old Atari VCS version of Asteroids, if it was thrown into a Space War machine. And then had some of Minter's own Gridrunner Revolution added to it. At least three shooting games in one. Bullet-tastic!
That sun makes me want to eat a banana toffee. Or play Atari VCS PacMan.
One of the main strengths of Minotaur Rescue is the control method. The game uses an autofire method, which is the firing mechanism of choice for yer iDevice shooter. It really doesn't make sense to have a fire button on a screen, unless your game has an excellent reason for not using autofire.
Coupled with that, though, is the swipe control system. It's a little tricky to get used to at first, but once you master it (or even get mildly proficient at it) you'll be whizzing about all over the screen like it's second nature. It's a far better method than using a virtual joystick, certainly for this game, and adds an extra level of control that you'll find very welcome in time...
The object of the game, of course, is to rescue minotaurs. Actually, it isn't... that's just an element of the game, and a chance to earn stacks of bonus points. The object of the game is to shoot things and not get killed. Yes, it's that simple.
It's hard to control the stream...
Complicating matters a little is the sun in the middle of the screen. It pulses away happily to itself, unless you get too close at which point you'll discover it has its own gravity, and will destroy you if you get too close. As if that wasn't bad enough, it'll destroy anything else that gets too close. Uh-oh.
That means that you have to manage its size as you play. That's easily done... destroy all the asteroids and pick up all the minotaurs before they get swallowed up, and all will remain well and relatively unthreatening. But it's inevitable that you'll miss some...
You can, though, use the sun's gravity for your own good. The gravity also affects your ship's bullets, so you can position yourself on the screen in such a way that you can bend your bullets around the sun to destroy asteroids. Learning how to do this effectively is beneficial but not hugely important (at least, not on the small-screen version - I haven't played it on the iPad)... there's not much that's that far out of reach and that you'll need to destroy urgently.
Check me out, with my million points!
Causing further problems are the enemy craft that sporadically appear and try to kill you. At first, you're only attacked by UFOs from the original VCS Asteroids. But as time goes by, others join the fray... a Star Raiders TIE-Fighter-esque ship, a Defender Baiter, Combat jets... all will weigh in with attempts to destroy you. If you've played any of these games in the past, they're likely to bring smiles to your face as they're having a go at you.
Failure to keep the sun from expanding will see it turn into a black hole, and then you're really in trouble. Black holes swallow everything in sight, and you'll have a giant problem just keeping yourself out of there. It reminds me a little of the end of the world in Defender, where only great skill will see you extending your game.
Once you've got got to grips with the control system, the first few levels of Minotaur Rescue are quite simple. Luckily, Llamasoft's excellent tried-and-tested level select is available, and you can choose your starting point up to any level you've previously completed, picking up your previous best score once its completed. It's a brilliant way of making sure you don't get bored with the early levels once you're good at the game, and should be standard in all new arcade games.
This is a different kind of Combat...
As a package, Minotaur Rescue is fantastic. For 69p you get two versions of the main game (default game Solar Minotaur Rescue Frenzy and Survival), plus Deep Space Minotaur Madness (a different variation on the main game with no sun), Tanks, and Jets. Tanks and Jets are Minter-arranged versions of the games from Combat with eye-melting visuals and subtle gameplay refinements...
Minotaur Rescue is a true star of the App Store. Llamasoft's aim to recreate new arcade games in an old style has been perfectly realised with this title. It's great for a quick blast, or if you want to sit down for a long session of minotaur rescuing. It plays tremendously well, is always enjoyable and rarely frustrating... and it's cheap. If you've got a current generation iPhone/iPod Touch or an iPad, you should really give it a try. Although Llamasoft titles don't appeal to all, if you click with it you'll have a fantastic time. Surely 69p is a small gamble for the amount of fun you could have?
Minotaur Rescue is a Universal App.