Storm Angel, by Loaded Studios
Review by Kevin Steele
Storm Angel, by Loaded Studios, is a joining of classic arcade-style action with modern 3D eye-candy, in much the same way as games such as Mutant Storm by Pom Pom Games. A traditional side-scrolling shooter with modern 3D-accelerated graphics, Storm Angel delivers on providing rapid-fire action in a great-looking presentation.
The story line is irrelevant, which is how it should be — your goal is to shoot everything that moves, and if it keeps moving, shoot it again. The action scrolls across the screen from right to left, with enemies popping up from nearly any direction as you fly to the end of the level.
Starting off with minimal weapons, you can get "power-ups" while playing that will increase the strength of your current weapons. Your ship is equipped with both a primary and secondary weapon system. Both systems fire with a single button, so there's no need to select between them.
Storm Angel only requires directional controls and two buttons, so it's an ideal match for a MAME arcade cabinet. Joystick support is also included. You can reconfigure the keys used in the game, but unfortunately the main interface is non-configurable, and uses the mouse or the game's default keyboard settings (Ctrl and the arrow keys) — this means that on my game cabinet I have to use the trackball to start and save games, as well as to upgrade my ship in the "shop."
Your ship's weapons arsenal also includes a limited number of "positronic charges," more commonly known as "smart bombs."
As you play, you accumulate both a score and "cash" during each level — the cash is used for weapons upgrades at the end of the level, when you reach the shop.
There are 5 primary and 5 secondary weapon systems available in the shop, ranging from auto-tracking guns to high-powered forward firing guns, to guns that fire upward and downward to cover your sides. Each system has seven power levels. As you earn cash (both from shooting enemy ships and by picking up cash power-ups as they float by), you can purchase the more powerful weapons systems, or upgrade the power level of your current systems.
Cash is also the only way you can get extra lives — sometimes, you have to decide which is more important: an extra life or a more powerful weapon system. You can even "trade down" to a lower-powered weapon system if you need the cash for something else, like an extra life or an additional positronic charge.
Another important feature of the shop is the "Save Game" feature. Storm Angel has six save game slots, a great addition to this type of game. You still have to complete a level to get to the shop, which keeps the save game feature from becoming too much of a crutch.
There are 13 levels in total, each broken down into a number of "sub-levels" (1-1, 1-2, etc.) Levels include flying over planet surfaces, through asteroid fields, even skimming along the surface of an alien mothership.
Along the way you'll have to face a wide variety of enemy ships, both large and small, fast or powerful. Each set of sub-levels ends with a boss ship to fight. There is a timer on each boss battle, but unfortunately there is no "strength meter" so that you can tell how badly you've damaged your opponent.
The 3D aspect of the game allows for some interesting gameplay additions such as storms of flaming meteors, incoming anti-aircraft fire, even structures that you must take out. It also allows for impressive effects like watching the alien mothership crash and explode.
Performance was great, even using a less powerful 3D card such as the ArcadeVGA in my arcade cabinet. On a more modern 3D card I was able to run the game at a maximum resolution (1600x1200) with all the eye-candy maxed out and the game was still smooth as silk during gameplay. There are plenty of options for fine-tuning the graphics, from the level of textures to the detail level of shadows.
I only ran into one graphics-related glitch — on the ArcadeVGA card (a modified ATI Raedon 7000), explosions show up with "boxes" around them for the first 30 seconds or so of gameplay. After that, the explosions "self-repair" themselves and look correct from then on (until you quit the game and relaunch it).
The sound effects and music deserve special mention — everything sounded great, especially the soundtrack. There are different tracks for each level, and the music suited the game perfectly, with the right sense of urgency and retro-synth sound. I actually found myself humming the tunes later in the day, which is always a good sign of a great soundtrack.
There are three difficulty settings: easy, normal, and hard. On the normal setting, the game starts out slowly, perhaps a bit too slowly — the first level was not challenging at all, with the attacking ships hardly ever bothering to shoot. Luckily, things ramp up quickly in the later levels, and soon you've got a screen full of enemy ships swooping in from all sides, shots blazing.
Storm Angel is highly addictive, especially if you're a fan of classic side-scrolling shooters. The game has good variety in enemy ships, weapons, levels, graphics, and music — plenty to keep even the most hardened joystick junkie satisfied for quite a while. The well-written manual even hints at "hidden game modes," which should help extend the game's life even more. Storm Angel is a very mature, well-polished (and very attractive) entry in the side-scrolling shooter genre. For $14.95, this is a bargain for anyone who loves classic video gaming goodness. Highly Recommended.