When PSN Minis were first announced I was excited. “Finally”, I thought, “a chance for smaller indie and bedroom developers to make their mark on the Playstation”. Anyone old enough to remember the Net Yaroze will join me in revelling in the level of creativity, originality and true skill that lone individuals displayed through their unique Playstation titles. Minis were the next obvious step. This was still my belief until I first tried MiniSquadron.
MiniSquadron is a 2D air combat game featuring dozens of aircraft, multiple backdrops and one mind-numbingly irritating soundtrack. Battling your way through twelve waves per world, you must stay alive and in the air using a range of cannons, rockets and lasers. So far so good, right? It’s not the most original premise but, if executed with some flair and its own original style, it could be fun.
Unfortunately, MiniSquadron can be called neither original nor polished. Aside from a few entertaining novelty aircraft, the range is extremely limited as a result of the few variables in their attributes. Especially early on, there is little to differentiate one plane from another except for slight aesthetic changes. The colourful cartoon environments do mix things up a little but, when your only focus is staying in the open sky (with no interaction with set pieces), it makes little difference whether you’re over Europe or on Mars.
The gameplay itself is at least somewhat entertaining. Using the analogue stick you swoop and dive around each map, firing at anything else that moves. With no collision detection and frequent joke waves made up of defenceless ducks (that, granted, erupt with a satisfying quack when hit), it feels like developers Grip Digital missed out on some fundamental gameplay mechanics that could have resulted in a more engaging challenge that is on offer. The controls are, at least, tight and responsive enough to execute some stylish loops around befuddled enemies, tricking them into fatally nose-diving into the ground in their efforts to keep up.
Visually, MiniSquadron manages to deliver a level of quirky cartoon charm that suggests some effort was put into its presentation. Colours are vivid and it’s easy to follow the action on screen. Unfortunately, even though there’s nothing so taxing that a mobile phone couldn’t handle the graphics, the game is still plagued with technical issues. Whenever a new wave loads the game noticeably stalls for a second or more. Even worse is the jarring screen judder that happens every time you shoot an enemy. I couldn’t tell whether this was intentional or not but it was so unpleasant that long sessions left me feeling nauseous.
The music is equally distressing. In what I can only assume was an effort to cut costs, all of the audio in the game is taken from freely available classics. This would be fine and, indeed, suits the light hearted nature of the on screen antics but it loops constantly, never long enough to last for even one wave of enemies. I eventually gave up and played in silence, fearing for my own sanity.
There are numerous problems with MiniSquadron. What disappointed me the most, however, was the impression of laziness that the game exudes. It began life as an iPhone game, enjoying reasonable success thanks to its simple pick up and play nature but it just doesn’t feel like it does enough to impress. The PSP deserves (and has) better than this.
One should bear in mind that this is a very competitively priced Mini. £1.45 / €1.99 gets you a game that, if you’re looking for a quick distraction to jump into when you can’t or don’t want to invest a lot of time in a premium title, may be for you. In this way, MiniSquadron wears its cellphone heritage proudly on its sleeve. While other Minis may provide a more original or polished experience, MiniSquadron seems to be forging a path to the super-casual users, giving portable gamers (although the title is also fully playable on PS3) an experience closer to their smartphone-toting counterparts.
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