We blast off with Clockwork's 3D twin-stick shooter.
We can be pretty sure you're thinking one of two things at this moment. Either you're wondering how we could have resisted using a dreadful Star Wars pun in the headline, or you're thinking: "Wow, that looks an awful lot like Super Stardust", a happy coincidence, as Darkside first debuted on PC in 2007.
The similarities are unavoidable as you orbit Darkside's planets, blast through asteroids (which of course disintegrate into smaller, infuriating pieces), and shoot the enemies in the name of chasing a new high score. The good news is that while the game may not score points for originality, it certainly has a look and feel that puts it ahead of many contemporary twin-stick shooters on the App Store.
Arcade mode is where you'll start off in the free version of the game, and it does a great job of teaching you the basics: combine orbiting with the left stick with shooting with the right, while trying very hard to get out of the habit you've had drummed into you from many, many years of 2D twin-stick shooters: orbit the arena in circles, stay out of harm's way and shoot backwards whenever you can.
This being a 3D orbiting twin-stick shooter, that approach more often than not leads you head-first into an asteroid that a few seconds ago was right behind you. Combine this with the gradual fragmentation of the rocks, and you can see how it's easy to get yourself into a whole lot of trouble if you stop paying attention for even a moment. It's a great twist on the usual mobile shooter, and forces you to think and react differently in a way we haven't had to for a while.
Weapon upgrades are suitably meaty, and range from an increased rate of fire, to homing missiles, deadly laser beams, and a sort of cheese-wire which cuts through enemies like a hot knife through butter. You can grab these upgrades by running over the red discs that occasionally drop from destroyed enemies. If you get really stuck, you can make use of a limited number of smart-bombs to clear enemies and asteroids from the immediate vicinity of your ship.
Darkside is a wonderfully smooth game, with some breath-taking nebula backdrops and barely a drop in the frame-rate, even when the action is at its most frantic. The ship designs lack a little variety, but frankly you'll have very little opportunity to care about this as you bob and weave between the asteroids in order to hang onto your limited shield and stay alive.
While the core gameplay of orbiting a planet frantically, clearing asteroids out of the way and taking sly shots at the enemies doesn't change in Mission mode, the objectives do. You might, for example, have to survive a particularly savage onslaught for a minute or so in one mission, protect surface towers and goods from extraction in another, or just clear out a mission's asteroid belt to proceed to the next. There are a hundred in total, and they'll keep you busy for a very long time to come.
You'll need to pay for this mode, and we strongly recommend that you do if the Arcade mode has piqued your interest. There's more variety in the gameplay, and a greater sense of satisfaction to be had from mastering specific challenges. You'll also unlock the hardcore Survivor mode where you'll have to get the highest possible score with just one life. Good luck with that...
There's an awful lot to love about Darkside: it looks fantastic, it plays brilliantly, and there's an awful lot of content to be had for less than a dollar. The game really opens up once you've unlocked the extra paid-for content, and the free download will inform you very quickly on whether this is your kind of game or not. Our take? We love it.
What's Hot: Amazing visuals, a great soundtrack and plenty of mission content
What's Not: You may get a feeling of deja vu!