I-play's Major Carnage 3D is very similar to Sega's 1985 classic Space Harrier, a third-person blaster with 3D-style, "into the screen" scrolling. Considering the small size of the mobile screen, it does a surprisingly good job of capturing the frenetic action that made those types of games so much fun.
Major Carnage pits a lone space ranger against a series of incoming enemies--in this case, an alien invasion force looking to destroy humanity (where would the video game industry be without this plot?). As in Space Harrier, your character's jetpack lets him fly around the screen freely, although when he gets close to landing he switches to running, a tiny graphical touch that will subtly twang the nostalgia strings of Harrier veterans everywhere. Other retro influences are clear in the game's level design. On the third of the six levels, for example, you jet off to a space station to navigate a narrow, obstacle-filled canyon. Immediately this brings to mind the Death Star section of Atari's Star Wars coin-op.
More-traditional 2D shoot-'em-ups have been studied, too. Take the various attack patterns of your enemies--the buzzing fighter jets swirling in the distance before scaling in down the sides of the screen, the craft zooming overhead then doubling back, the space mines floating motionless but deadly, the walkers pacing along the base of the screen... You can pick out Defender, R-Type, Phoenix and a dozen others for inspiration. These familiar formations are employed well, though, as each level introduces a new one before throwing all of them at you in the final two stages.
In another self-consciously retro touch, every stage is punctuated with mid- and end-of-level bosses. These come at you in the shape of giant crawling spiders, buzzing flies, and so forth. We especially enjoyed the wasplike craft that closes out level four, because it blasts you with a front-mounted laser before turning round to fire space mines from its butt. Charming.
Helpfully, bosses also tend to throw out power-ups, such as three-way weapon enhancements, missiles, homing missiles, and shield replenishers. Yep, you get a force field to protect you from enemy fire and collisions, but this can diminish rapidly, so it needs regular upkeep. It's also possible to fly through floating rings to increase your speed, which is a mixed blessing. Often these are placed just before areas where you're expected to slalom between towers. Unfortunately, the controls lack the responsiveness to cope with the speed boost, so until you memorize the design, avoiding crash after crash is very tough.
Indeed, the controls are pretty weird throughout the game. Your character has a narrow range of left and right movement, which is restricted to a channel down the center of the screen. If you try to move further sideways, it'll cause the screen itself to scroll. This provides a more 3D-like feel to the environments, especially on the opening two asteroid belt levels where you can swerve radically and watch as giant meteors veer past. However, there's a noticeable difference in speed between these two stages of sideways movement and the scrolling element, slowing things down considerably. This can make for some frustrating collisions. Plus, your character obscures all the action immediately in front of him, so to shoot an enemy you have to place yourself in its line of fire and blast away, oblivious to anything coming from the other direction. On mobile phones like the Sony Ericsson K750i, the blind spot is even more pronounced due to the tiny screen. You're prompted to adopt a very active style of gameplay as you blast away then shift to ensure you're not hit by the inevitable response.
The 3D visuals are well-handled and impressive, even if they don't blow you away at first sight. Apart from the asteroid belt opener, your immediate landscape is usually a rather narrow and featureless corridor. Indeed, all that really separates the levels is a change of palette and a bitmapped landscape image in the background. Of these, the alien planet levels are the best, as the backgrounds suggest an environment of sunburned mountains. Once you get into the game, though, a generous number of alien craft zoom around on the screen, and the frame rate remains steady. The technical achievement, given the inherent limitations of the mobile platform, shouldn't be underestimated. However, the visual fluidity appears to have come at the expense of sound, because there's a repetitive synth-pop soundtrack, but there are no sound effects.
Despite a few reservations, Major Carnage is a nice experiment in mobile 3D. It provides a decent enough blast with some good enemies and formations and plenty of exciting moments. The pace is frantic, the screen is suitably awash with explosions and laser blasts, and the challenge is strong enough to keep you plugging away for several hours. Space Harrier fans should certainly check it out, and most mobile action fans will probably like it too.