Review by Nigel Wood
With the advent of the Nintendo Wii and DS consoles a new type of gamer was born, the ‘casual gamer’. Casual gamers like short, easy to pick up and play games. Games that don’t have complicated control schemes and deep storylines, but instead offer a quick fix of gaming goodness to fill a small space in their daily lives. The iPhone can offer this kind of casual of experience, with it’s touch capabilities similar to the DS and tilt control similar to the Wii remote. Brain training style games and touch based puzzlers dominate the App store, but there is one genre of casual game that hasn’t yet reared it’s head, and that’s the ‘mini game compilation’. Popular on the Wii, these mini-game sets such as ‘Wario Ware’ and ‘Rayman Raving Rabbids’ offer the player a variety of simple, easy to grasp, jump in and out play styles. And now Pangea, makers of Enigmo and Cro Mag Rally have released their answer to this… ‘Billy Frontier’.
Billy is a space cowboy, and it’s his job to clean up the galaxy of good-for-nothing alien outlaws. The game offers a collection of eight Wild west inspired mini-games with a Sci-Fi twist set across four game types: Shoot out, Stampede, Duel, and Target practice.
Shoot out is a 3D on-rails shoot-em-up, placing you in a first person view. Two levels are available, ‘Town shoot out’ and ‘Swamp shoot out’. As you move through the environments you must take out alien outlaws which pop out from behind bushes, and boxes. Clear an area and you move onward to the next. To shoot, simply tap the target you wish to hit (best to have OFFSET RETICULE set to off in the Settings menu), you can move the camera left to right to get a better view, but apart from that, your movement is controlled for you. It’s a basic game of survival, you can collect ammo and health along the way by shooting them, and you gain points for each enemy you take out or coins you pick up. If you run out of bullets or health it’s game over. Both swamp and town versions are very enjoyable offering a good challenge. They are presented in 3D and feature great texture art and animation, the polygon counts are low in places, but the framerate is smooth and stutter free.
Stampede is race to the finish mini-game. You are presented with a view of Billy running towards you. Tilting the iPhone left or right will make Billy do the same, and tapping will make him jump. Hot on the heels of Billy are a herd of stampeding space-cows, you must keep ahead of the heard or it’s game over. To help you out are red hot chillies which you can pick up to give you a boost, but watch out for rocks and branches as these will stop you dead in your tracks. Also along the route are coins to pick up for points. This min-game brings back fond memories of Crash Bandicoot on the PS1, it featured a level similar to this where Crash was being pursued by a boulder, Indiana Jones style. Stampede comes in two flavours, Town Stampede and Swamp Stampede, both offer a fun challenge and feature strong presentation in both 3D models and textures. Again the framerate is solid.
Target practice is the next mini, which offers a Duck Hunt style challenge. Objects such as bottles, barrels of TNT and even the Alien outlaws are tossed into the air, where you have to tap on them to shoot them out of the sky. The camera sways around so it’s not as easy as it sounds. Try and rack up a high score before you run out of bullets. This mini-game doesn’t exactly require much skill or brain power, but it is a fun diversion, and again the graphics look great on the iPhone. As with the previous two mini games you get Swamp and Town versions, which have different enemies to shoot down.
The final game is Duel. And features our Billy in a one-on-one and one-on-three duel in either the Town or the swamp. While the presentation of duel is superb, it features the weakest gameplay of the collection. You have to match symbols to a pattern which appears on screen, you need to match all the patterns that appear before the cutscene of Billy in a duel plays out. Whether you are successful or not affects the outcome of the cutscene. If you succeed, Billy will shoot first. Fail, and poor Billy will be shot full of lead.
Duel is let down by unresponsive touch controls, I think this is due to some framerate drops during the cutscene, and can get annoying when your so close to the end of the sequence of patterns.
As mentioned in each mini-game, the graphics for Billy Frontier look great on the iPhone. The 3D models are a bit low poly in places and the textures can look a bit muddy close up, but it all comes together to build an atmospheric western style game world, with nice details such as tumble weed, and authentic looking towns and landscapes.
Sound is fantastically done, and really is the icing on the cake. There is a great orchestral soundtrack, with a ‘Good, the bad and the ugly’ vibe. Duel also features some great music, which adds to the tense nature, building to a climax before the guns are finally drawn. Gun shots are well produced, as are the rewarding cracks and smashes of objects being split by bullets and ricochets as they bounce of walls. A nice touch on the menu screen is that you can tap around the options, resulting in bullet holes appearing accompanied by the satisfying sound of gun shots.
Billy frontier is a fun package. For the casual market it’s perfect for gaming on the go or a quick distraction. The lack of a story to link the mini-games together is a missed opportunity, especially with the work that has gone into creating the authentic art and sound.