Release Date: February 16, 2017
Genre: Action, Shooter
Game Modes: Single
Control: Daydream controller
Having only launched the platform in November last year, the Google Play store is still pretty light on Daydream games. Earlier this year Google opened up the platform for anybody to develop apps (just like regular Android) which means we should be seeing loads of new title in the coming months. This week I’m taking a look at a brand new Daydream-exclusive; it’s a top-down shooter with roguelike elements, it’s loads of fun, and it’s called Battle Planet.
Battle Planet drops you on a randomly-generated micro-planet with nothing but a gun and a drone to take on wave after wave of enemies that are as relentless as they are diverse. However, the main goal of each wave is not to eliminate all enemies, since they spawn infinitely, but rather to diffuse one to three bombs that are planted on the planet. You do this by getting close to the bomb and letting your drone do the technical work, while you holding off the attacking hordes. Any bombs you fail to diffuse in time will explode, leaving a massive hole in the planet’s crust, making it progressively harder to get around. Basically, the more bombs you diffuse, the more planet is left, and the longer you can play, and that’s really the objective here: how long can you last on the Battle Planet?
If you’ve watched any gameplay videos of Battle Planet, you might mistake it for a twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars, Smash TV, or Robotron. Indeed your character is moving independent of which direction you’re shooting, but therein lies the twist: you are not shooting. All that aiming and shooting going on? That’s automatic. You control your character’s movements to avoid enemy fire, pickup health and weapons, and stay close to bombs so your drone can diffuse them, but you never aim or pull the trigger. Your character will automatically target what is in range and fire until it’s dead, or until a higher priority target appears. This might sound like it significantly lowers the difficulty, but surprisingly the game remains very challenging.
Despite having a very run-and-gun look to it, the gameplay in Battle Planet has a bit of depth. You’ll have to strategically and precisely place yourself so you can diffuse the bomb, while avoiding enemy fire but remaining within range to return fire, as well as making the most of the power-ups dropped by slain enemies. If you manage to diffuse all the bombs during a wave, you get to chose a power-up that will be added permanently to your six-slot arsenal. The powerups are as diverse as the enemies, ranging from health and shield boosts, to improved fire rate, to bomb-diffusing buffs.
And in keeping with the roguelike style: there’s perma-death. When your health hits zero, and all those power-ups are stripped and you’re back to square-one on a new randomly generated planet. Luckily the game is quite fast-paced, so you can make a run in 10 or 20 minutes, depending on how far you get. The bomb diffusing is a great mechanic, but I’m a big fan of the boss battles: they’re massive in scale and have more complex patterns than the common enemies, making for a much more interesting fight.
Battle Planet feels like a twin-stick shooter, with one-stick controlled by the game itself, so all you need to do is move (and sometimes fly). While the menus make liberal use of the Daydream pointer functions, the gameplay is purely controlled by the circular touchpad. Center is zero, naturally, and the further you move away from the center of the touchpad, the faster you go. It basically turns the touchpad into an analog stick, and demonstrates the potential of using the touchpad for locomotion in other games. Clicking the touchpad activates your jetpack, letting you move faster and cross craters, though it activates automatically for the latter.
That said, there is one small problem. If you take your thumb off the touchpad, then you touch it again in a direction opposite to what your character is facing, your character will make a small-radius-turn instead of instantaneously snapping to your chosen direction. It was likely done to keep the animations smooth, but it means you’ll occasionally go places you don’t intend to. I’ve been told directly by the developers that they will be addressing this issue in future updates, but until then my advice is to just never lift your thumb.
The graphic style is pretty unique. The first thing that hits you is the color, all the neon pink and purple on a starry background is quite striking, with a bit of an ’80s vibe, and really gives the game a distinct look. The randomly-generated planets are colored in neon purples, oranges, and greens, and decorated with rocks, mesas and ruins. Your character is small but very visible, and you’re always able to see what’s going on. Depending on the type of weapon you’re holding, a circle is cast on the ground showing the range of your gun, and direction and spread of fire. This makes it possible to indirectly control what target you’re shooting at, giving you a little more control over your character.
And the game is full of little graphical details: for example, your character leaves footprints in the planet’s soil, and the footprints get bloody if you walk through a slain enemy. Speaking of the enemies, there’s a lot of them. All enemies, from the little grunts to the bigger lieutenants and bosses are detailed and very smoothly animated, and when they die they explode in a juicy shower of gibs. The game seems to slow down when you simultaneously explode a large number of enemies, but it seems to be by design as sort of a bullet-time effect to let you watch the show, instead of suffering performance.
The planet damage is very cool. Bombs and certain enemies leave massive holes in the planet’s crust, exposing the brilliant orange of the liquid-hot-magma. The orbiting asteroids, space ships, and comets really make the environment come alive, and the rotating planet means new enemies and objectives are always cresting the horizon. Overall the graphics are vibrant, well-modeled, and butter smooth.
At the title screen you’re greeted with a pounding hard-rock soundtrack, again reminiscent of ’80s action movies. With a decent pair of ear-buds or headphones the music sounds absolutely fantastic, and really drives the feeling that you’re a one-man army. The sound effects don’t disappoint either, with thunderous gunfire and bone-jarring explosions creating a symphony of destruction around you. Everything about the sound is extremely well done, even the announcer and enemy voices are high fidelity. This is one game you’ll definitely want to play at full volume.
Comfort & Immersion
There’s nothing special to say about comfort here, because despite being a Daydream-exclusive, this game doesn’t really make use VR that much. Stereoscopic visuals give some depth, but you remain stationary the entire time, so there’s no motion-sickness to speak of. But it does beg the question: why is this a VR game, and a Daydream-exclusive at that?
The game is a top-down shooter, so the sense of presence is limited to, at-best, that of a near-field observer. Again, the stereoscopic visuals are great to look at, and seeing the planet with that depth is very cool, but you won’t be getting the same level of immersion as the flying or driving games on mobile VR. In Battle Planet it’s like playing on a big 3D screen, and this game could probably be ported to PC or console without losing any gameplay elements.
Despite offering little in terms of immersion, this game is a whole lot of fun. The colorful environments and eye-candy-animations make the game a pleasure to look at, and the soundtrack and audio effects are a perfect pulse-pounding match. The global leaderboard gives you something to shoot for, but you will be playing essentially the same 10 or 20 minute game over and over. The action is varied and complex enough to not be too repetitive, but it does rely on the leaderboard for its longevity. At $12 it’s a still a relatively expensive mobile VR title, especially compared to the GearVR marketplace. Prices are higher on the Daydream due to the lower install base and projected sales numbers, but with more Daydream-compatible phones coming out this year we may see game prices drop like we did on the GearVR.
If you’re looking for a Daydream game that takes you into another world and shows you what mobile VR can really do, this probably isn’t the title for you. However, it is a very fast and engaging roguelike shooter. I really did enjoy it, and climbing the leaderboard is still exciting. As more immersive titles are added to the Daydream library this game will eventually take a back seat, but for now it’s the best action title on the Google Daydream.
- Beautiful and smooth graphics
- Awesome sound design, both music and effects
- Novel take on twin-stick shooter controls
- Doesn't really make use of the VR medium
- Some players will find gameplay repetitive
- Still a little expensive