Lost Planet: Trag Zero
Lost Planet: Trag Zero from Capcom Mobile is one of the better examples of console/mobile synergy I've seen this year. Lots of console publishers and developers have set up mobile divisions (Sega, THQ, Konami, Namco, Tecmo etc.), but most are usually tasked with porting over the company's 80s hits, or releasing straight-up mobile ports of big name titles, treating mobile as simply another low-end platform to reach, like the GBA.
Trag Zero, on the other hand, serves as a prequel to Capcom's Xbox 360 shooter Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, due out next month. In that title protagonist Wayne witnesses his father Gale's death at the hands of an alien menace known as the Akrid during the prologue. Trag Zero backs up the clock and allows gamers to play as Gale himself, well before the events of the upcoming FPS epic. The mobile plot never gets too involved, but it's better than most with some interesting twists and turns, and dialogue that rises above the one-dimensional nature common to the medium. Suffice it to say that Gale is given plenty of excuses to shoot up many, many Akrid.
The gameplay takes place on a frozen alien planet, with humanity attempting to eek out an existence for itself. More than just a plot device, this twist is responsible for Trag Zero's most interesting feature - its thermal energy bar. In addition to a standard life gage, gamers are also responsible for replenishing their ever-depleting supply of thermal energy (it's apparently very, very cold out there). When Gale loses health, the stored thermal energy is automatically traded, draining much faster than normal in exchange for a handy health recharge.
Luckily every defeated Akrid leaves behind a precious orb of the stuff. This dynamic makes for a much more interesting gameplay experience. Running into a huge group of Akrid might eat up most of your health, but it also provides you with a huge boost of energy, which inevitably turns out to be necessary to progress through the level. Sometimes I found myself wishing I would run into *more* opposition, when my energy ran low. It's a great feeling to be right on the edge, nearly out of energy and health, only to slowly nurse your way back to health by defeating more crawly aliens.
The action itself is considerably less innovative, but still solid. The game plays out from a 2D semi-overhead viewpoint, with up, down, left, and right moving Gale accordingly. Center fires, and 7 and 9 cycle between your four available weapons (if you've found them). The Akrid come in several varieties, but outside of boss encounters, they don't present much of a real threat besides a handful of times when their numbers are genuinely overwhelming. Most either rush at you, and are easily taken out before reaching your location, or fire slow-moving projectiles at your location, making it easy to move a few pixels in any direction to avoid fire.
It's worth noting that a few common enemies and the game's three boss encounters are considerably more challenging, however. In fact, I'd say Trag Zero is one of the more finely-tuned mobile games I've played, in terms of difficulty. It ramps up at just the proper pace.
My biggest issue with that Trag Zero is how incredibly sloooow Gale moves. The game itself isn't slow - it scrolls quickly, the weapons are responsive, etc., but your walk speed (there is no run) is so slow that I almost can't believe it. It isn't quite a deal-breaker, but is still a bummer. I'd sometimes see power-ups just one screen away and not bother to go pick them up if I was heading in the opposite direction, because of the amount of time it would take to get there and back.
Another detracting factor involves the levels themselves. They're gigantic by mobile standards, and largely non-linear. Traveling off the beaten path generally rewards players with ammo or weapon upgrades. The problem is that they can take a long, long time to complete. I didn't time them, but the final level has got to be upwards of 30 minutes. There are usually mid-level checkpoints if you die, but there is no way to save your progress halfway through a level! If the game's seven stages were split into say, 21, the experience would be much more mobile friendly. As it is, later stages are too big to ever be completed during brief bursts of play. The game desperately needs a save state feature.
Outside of the thermal energy dynamic, Trag Zero is largely a standard (but by no means poor) mobile action title. But it's surprising how much of a difference that one little twist can make. I got a lot of enjoyment managing my energy level, and it was refreshing to experience a mobile story actually worth paying attention to. The slow pace and sprawling levels are detractors, but they aren't deal-breakers. Hopefully we'll see more Lost Planet mobile episodes in the future, with some refinements.
What's Hot: Great music. Engaging narrative. Great life/thermal energy dynamic.
What's Not: Levels WAY too long. Slow movement.