It’s been a while since we’ve seen a top-quality scrolling shooter, but can “A, AI” from Satur Entertainment and Sometimes You, live up the standards set by greats such as Sine More and Sky Force.
You control a self-aware AI trapped on a distant space station, you’ll need to escape your prison of a lab before setting course for a stargate to start life fresh on a distant planet.
In total there are 20 levels, filled with hundreds of enemies. You’re likely to get past the 1st or 2nd level without too much trouble, but as enemy numbers multiply your struggling weaponry and feeble shields won’t last far into later missions.
Thankfully every enemy you defeat with drop a small blue orb, which can be used in the hangar after death, to upgrade your ship. This is where I, AI really starts to shine as almost roguelike progression allows you to upgrade your main weapon up to level 10, with each upgrade increasing in value, but as well as your primary fire, you might want to boost your armour and lightning special attack.
There’s also a Plasma gun and homing rockets which will fire alongside your main weapon, and you can add a ray-gun, energy bomb and floating mines to the lighting to fill your 4 face buttons, with special attacks alongside LB controlling an energy shield which will temporarily deflect projectiles when you’re stuck in a corner.
Besides the wide selection of upgrades, you’ll find the difficulty of I, AI pretty well balanced, on Normal you’ll end up backtracking through missions to stock up on upgrades, easy difficulty makes things a little quicker as enemies fall more frequently meaning you’ll need slightly less firepower to progress and finally Hard, is for the masochists who want to submit themselves to the highest level of punishment, where even level 6-7 weapons will take a few seconds to take down many enemies.
It’s a balance that works well and while I managed the half-way point without too many issues on Normal, I soon found myself stuck on a level which required a few expensive upgrades before I could get past it.
The rinse and repeat nature and only 20 levels might not be to everyone’s taste, but depending how you approach the game it will offer quite a different experience, going more defensive, will see enemies fill the screen with bullets, testing your agility and reactions, whereas piling your upgrades on offence, makes things a little easier as you can wipe out the enemies before they start littering the screen with bullets at the cost of not being able to take much damage.
Eventually, you’ll become resilient to more than a few stray bullets and with so many powerful weapons at your disposal you’ll make short work of any level on Easy or Normal with a high change of hitting 100% of enemies resulting in a 50% boost to your acquired upgrade tokens.
I AI, is likely to last well into a second or third evening, however, you can expect quite a few hours as you repeat missions to hit the upgrades required for an average gamer to proceed, but this backtracking isn’t too infuriating considering how much fun you’re likely to have with the game, and there’s always a sense of progression eve if it’s just adding a level to your weakest special ability, the regular achievements are another positive, spaced out enough to feel like a progression, but not so difficult that your likely to be left with more than 1 or 2 to unlock after completion.
I would have liked to see a few more bullet-hell sections where you’re forced to move within the pattern of the incoming fire to get a few shots off, but these are usually reserved for a handful of the boss battles (of which there’s about a dozen in total), mid-level you’re more likely to make your way through while still collecting most of the XP or power-up tokens which will give an extra charge of your special abilities.
Graphically, it’s certainly on par with what I’d expect from a modern game, the deep galaxy background full of nebulae and stars are mesmerising without becoming distracting, and there are the occasional space-station style “ground” housing turrets. You’ll mostly have no issue spotting the enemies, wether they’re mobile ships or placed turrents, but while most fire a distinctive orange bullet towards you a few fire light blue shots, which are a little too like your own fire and the XP orbs that scatter the screen, It all looks great, and during missions, it’s one of the best looking “R-Type” clones, but it’s not got the level of presentation found in some titles like Sine Mora.
Audio is mostly fine, but the rat-tat-tat of the main weapon is infuriating, it’s light and tiny and feels as powerful as a Bic pen firing paper balls held together with spit. I quickly went into the menu to turn main weapon sound right down to about 10% and raised the music and sound sliders to about 80% and it was far easier on the ears.
Considering the low asking price of £8.39/$9.99 I can easily recommend I AI to fans of the genre and achievement hunters, but for those who feels arcade style shoot-em-ups are a little dated and repetitive, the fancy visuals will only go part-way to making up for the required backtracking to get your ship upto a decent power.