Underground, an interesting new side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up released by Chillingo, has quietly been released in the app store. Despite its lack of fanfare and chatter around the internet, Underground, with its hip-hop style and impressive graphics, is a pretty solid and fun new addition to the genre.
The storyline revolves around a graffiti artist battling his demons on a routine subway ride. You play as a spray can that morphs into a flying vessel, shooting at enemies that appear outside the subway windows, avoiding their return fire, as well as the graffiti tagged on the subway cars travelling alongside you. In between these battles, cut scenes pull you deeper into the storyline, as you try to solve the overriding mystery. The battles are indicative of the artist’s anxieties, which must be conquered to move forward. There are over 60 different types of enemies that will constantly attack you, either by physical touch, shooting at you, or forcing your vessel to collide with graffiti. There are three difficulty levels: Easy, Hard, and Impossible, each increasing the enemies and allowing you a different number of lives before you must restart the level. Power-ups become available after defeating some enemies, which can give you advantages such as rapid fire shooting action or shooting in multiple directions. There are 11 different “weapons” in all, which we believe to mean shooting styles, as there don’t appear to be actual weapons (rockets, bombs, etc.), but just different rates and firing patterns in which the dots released from your vessel will travel.
Graphically, the game is quite stunning, with beautifully rendered environments that at times can draw your eye from the gameplay. Each enemy destroyed leaves behind a graffiti-style tag, which quickly fades out and has no impact on your vessel, other than looking cool. The enemy graffiti is very cool as well, drawing our eye and causing us to crash on more than one occasion simply because we were admiring it. As terrific as the visuals are, the music is just as appealing, with a terrific hip-hop flavor that befits the environment. Controls are also well-implemented, offering both accelerometer-based and touch-based controls. Tilt to move the vessel, which autofires at a constant rate in one direction. Touching the screen will cause you to fire in the direction of your touch until you release your finger. Conversely, you can use touch controls, where the vessel follows your touch, and the second touch is what controls your firing aim. While both work well, we preferred the accelerometer controls.
There were a fair number of annoyances that bothered us when playing Underground. First, we felt like the menus were created by the same people who create automated telephone menus. There are a bunch of screens to work through before you can actually play, and even then, when we click Continue, it will ask us again a couple of screens later to confirm that we want to move on to the next level. Just let us pick up where we left off! Calibration options are present, though buried. In the Options menu, you would expect to see this listed. It is not. Instead, you have to tap on Settings, which appears to simply be the title of the menu screen. This will bring up the calibration options, which are necessary if you want to play in any orientation other than parallel to the floor. Also, though some cut scenes can be skipped, the screen leading into the actual gameplay is slow and cannot be skipped. If we’ve died several times and keep retrying the same level, we have no need to watch the subway slowly pull out of the station and disappear into the tunnel. Get us into the game as quickly as possible!
While the app store has a fair number of shoot-‘em-ups and side-scrollers available, few, if any, have the polish of Underground. The graffiti art from Frames and the soundtrack by Pp3d are top notch and help to create an immersive experience that you can’t get from the competition. Though production value is huge, replay value is a bit limited, due to its repetitive nature and lack of leaderboards. Underground sports a hefty price tag of $3.99, presumably for its high production value, though we felt this was still a bit high based on its gameplay. Still, Underground is a 4-Dimple game that will please fans of the shoot-‘em-up genre.
Underground gets our AppSmile 4-Dimple rating: