The beautiful thing about a story or game that is well-loved, is that people don't tend to mind when elements -- or even entire plotlines -- of it show up in other works. Such is the case with Gameloft's Star Battalion, an entertaining space shooter that borrows heavily from the basic plot of the original Star Wars Trilogy and a few other tales, as well as two games of yesteryear: Star Wars Rogue Squadron, and Starfox. Star Battalion does a fairly decent job of spinning out their version of these icons, leaving us with a pretty, if short, game with good gameplay and a fair amount of replay value. The game was originally released on the iPhone/iPod Touch, but has since had an HD tag slapped on it (and subsequent separate pricing) for its iPad release.
The story, which can be expanded upon with a free, downloadable comic book, is basically one of an evil emperor who has usurped the galactic kingdom from his elder brother, who was aiming to lessen the power of the monarchy and create more of a democratic society. The surprise coup left a few survivors, including one great general who helped to form a working rebellion. The game opens with three rebel pilots, sent on the first of several missions against the Royalists (see: Evil Empire). Battles, intrigue and secrets follow, and all is revealed as the game progresses to its conclusion. A conclusion which involves a great battle over the base-planet of the rebels, and features a giant-laser-beam toting planet-killer -- that you get to fly inside and destroy, of course.
Familiarity is good for sales -- just ask Disney.
The general gameplay of Star Battalion HD and its iPhone counterpart is a good experience. There are several missions and a few different ships you get to fly (though you don't get a choice in the matter, you are assigned), and each of those ships, the mission area, and enemy craft you battle have their own glossary page, as do the game's cast of characters. Each mission and its segments usually has the goal of killing a set number of enemies, with the occasional finding mission and boss battle sprinkled in. It's not too hard to achieve at least a silver medal on most levels, but if you want to improve your score and add to your achievements, you can always touch a previous location and blast back there in the blink of an eye for another shot.
Each ship you fly -- you'll spend most of your time in a Wyvern -- has a primary blaster and a secondary weapon, which is generally a missile launcher. Onscreen touch controls are the expected norm, here, and they work fairly well. On the iPad version, at least, there is also a tool that allows you to arrange the buttons (and D-pad, if you use it) on the screen as you see fit. This is a very, very nice feature, and I firmly believe that every iOS game with onscreen controls should have it.
The throttle button can be a bit confusing as it looks like a slider, but you are really supposed to touch its top, middle, or bottom points to change speed. If you swipe at it -- or anywhere else on the screen you swipe up or downward-- you will quickly discover that your ship will do a loop to change direction. This, as well as the sideways swiping barrel roll, is handy in dogfighting situations, but not so much if you are trying to slow down when flying in a narrow tunnel. Bottom line, the throttle should be clearer in its presentation.
You can control direction of the ship via the accelerometer or onscreen D-pad. The accelerometer provides more of a fun experience when dogfighting, but is extremely touchy. If you actually want to kill anything, and want to spend less time crashing, you probably should switch to the D-pad. Using the D-pad increases your control immensely, but the drawback of losing all that frantic tilting is that the game seems very slow at times, even when switched into cockpit view and at top speed.
The graphics in Star Battalion are on the upper end of the scale with great ship design and detailed textures. Animations and special effects are everything you could want in a space shooter, and the iPad handles it all without trouble. There have been reports of some sluggish moments on the older iPhone and iPod Touch units, however.
Audio is also quite good, with music and sound effects that suit the game. All conversations are voice-acted, which is always nice -- and the voice acting shouldn't make you want to deafen yourself, which is even better.
One of the biggest issues I have with Star Battalion is that, like many iOS games, it is much too short. There is some replay value in trying to better your score, and there seems to be a possibility of a sequel, but I found that just wanted more story from the game, no matter the obvious lack of originality. If you're just in it for the gameplay, however, Star Battalion attempts to give you a longer-lasting experience via co-op multiplayer on Gameloft Live and Game Center. I found it tough to find games, unfortunately, but I'm in Canada, so other locales may have better luck than me. Multiplayer mode allows three people to tackle the campaign together.
For all of its short-length, borrowed plot points, occasional control problems, and the fact that the game sometimes just seems slow-moving, Star Battalion is pretty fun to play. The multiplayer aspect brings it even closer to being worth the $6.99 it will run you on the iPad, (and again on the iPhone, if you want it for both), and there is some definite solo player replay available as well. In the end, though, you will probably enjoy it more if you catch it on sale.