When this one flew into the Popzara offices, I was skeptical. “Another bullet-hell shooter on a touchscreen, yeah, sure,” I said. “I’m sure there won’t be any cheap deaths thanks to wonky touch controls.” Yes, the iOS platform is filled with decent to good shmups (shoot ’em ups for you newbies), especially from Cave, but we still tread carefully.
I’m not going to lie: the controls aren’t perfect. We’ve gotten used to imperfect controls from nearly two console generations’ worth of people pretending that an iPad is a practical gaming device for these things, though, so it’s possible to adapt.
Once you’ve played .Decluster Zero: Bullet Nocturne (sequel/revision to .Decluster: Into the Bullet Hell) for awhile and gotten used to the sensitivity of the movements you’ll need to make to keep your ship under control, you’ll be in good shape. Personally, I feel like it’s worth that early aggravation; this is a solid shooter.
As is common for shooters on this platform, your ship blasts away with standard shots automatically as long as you’re touching the screen. These are effective for taking out popcorn enemies and you can switch from a laser to a weaker wide-shot by double tapping. You’ve got heavier munitions as well: if you tap with your other hand, your ship will fire a barrage of homing lasers that lay waste to everything on screen.
Tapping and holding with both hands, meanwhile, results in a defensive shield that slows most enemy bullets. Slowing them enough will allow you to capture them, earning point-boosting stars and releasing the captured bullets as additional homing lasers. Finally, letting the screen go altogether will charge up your ship’s power meter, used to fuel the shield and homing laser.
There aren’t any power-boosting pickups in .Decluster Zero, only score boosters, which isn’t all that unusual these days – modern shmups often forego the gradual powerup mechanic in favor of the more skill-based approach of just giving you a fully powered ship at all times.
It might sound like a lot to remember, but the basic routine is to charge into giant, deadly groups of enemy bullets and capture them all for massive points. This mechanic makes .Decluster Zero play a bit like the shooter classic Mars Matrix, which isn’t an unflattering comparison to make at all. You’re encouraged to put yourself into dangerous situations in return for a big payout, which is an addictive mechanic that keeps the game fresh.
I spent most of my time playing on Normal, the second lowest of four difficulty settings, which is more than reasonable for casual shmuppers to enjoy. Higher settings were a little excessive for lil’ old me, but I’m sure you Touch aces out there won’t have any issue with them. Having not played the original .Decluster I can’t really compare the two, but I’m told that the five stages have been significantly modified to keep the game feeling new.
.Decluster Zero’s graphics and sound are solid given that your hands will be taking up a big chunk of the screen most of the time. Nearly everything is rendered as a set of white dots, which is pretty lo-fi but still looks decent. The soundtrack is the pumping bass-focused EDM we’ve come to expect from shmups, and it helps keep you focused as it always has. My one complaint regarding presentation is the choice of black for the homing lasers, which makes them look very understated and difficult to see. It’s not a big deal, though – it’s not like you need to see the lasers to kill stuff, after all!
At $5, .Decluster Zero: Bullet Nocturne might run you slightly more than your average App Store game, but it’s a quality shooter that merits a look. Heck, there’s a free Lite version to get a taste to see if its your kind of flavor, so there’s really nothing to lose by trying. If you’re a fan of the bullet hell genre and you’re willing to accept the unique control scheme that iOS devices force upon you, then you could do a lot worse than .Decluster Zero.