At first glance, Big Bang Mini doesn't seem like a traditional shoot-'em-up. Given that the genre is best known for tiny spaceships blasting their way through thick fields of alien fire, you'd be forgiven for wondering where fish skeletons, pirate snowmen, and fireworks fit in. But don't let the charmingly oddball presentation fool you: Big Bang Mini is an evolutionary step forward for the genre. Ship movement and shooting are completely independent of each other. You can launch shots from anywhere on the touch screen, regardless of where your ship is positioned, and this innovation breathes new life into the frantic action. The smooth learning curve makes the game very accessible, but later levels and extra modes provide a tough test of your stylus mastery. Bound together with wonderfully vibrant visuals and an infectious soundtrack, Big Bang Mini earns its shoot-'em-up stripes and a place among the top games on the Nintendo DS.
The unique controls are at the core of Big Bang Mini's appeal. Unlike traditional shoot-'em-ups in which projectiles are fired from your ship, Big Bang Mini lets you launch fireworks from anywhere on the touch screen. Simply flick the stylus as if you were lighting a match, and a shot will light out along that trajectory. As your foes appear on the top screen, you are free to bombard them from any and all angles with fireworks galore. Shots that destroy enemies will explode in a colorful spectacle; however, shots that don't hit anything will explode when they hit the edge of the screen, raining down dangerous debris on your vulnerable ship. This danger pushes you to make more accurate shots, a goal easily accomplished thanks to the responsive and accurate stylus controls.
In fact, the controls are so responsive that errant strokes can get you into trouble. In addition to launching fireworks, you control the position of your ship with the stylus: just touch it and drag the stylus to move it wherever you like. If you try to launch a shot too close to your ship, you may end up moving it inadvertently. Likewise, a desperate swipe to move your ship out of danger can result in a badly aimed shot and a dangerous explosion. Big Bang Mini demands precision in both firing and maneuvering, two separate but equally important tasks. And you won't just be moving your ship to avoid danger: each destroyed enemy releases a falling star. If you collect enough stars to fill up the meter, you pass the stage. Balancing the necessary firing, dodging, and collecting is engaging and exciting. It can also be tricky, but fortunately the first few levels provide a smooth ramp-up in difficulty, ensuring that Big Bang Mini doesn't have the difficult point of entry that many of its genremates boast.
As you progress through the nine levels of the Arcade mode (each with nine stages and a boss), you'll encounter new power-ups and hazards. In one level, you can create a vortex that will absorb enemy shots by swirling the stylus around, but stiff winds will affect the trajectory of your fireworks. In another, you can lay down a reflective mirror shield with a horizontal swipe of the stylus, but certain clouds (which normally absorb your shots) will reflect your own projectiles right back at you. The beauty of these power-ups and hazards is that they are complementary, so as you become more powerful, the level becomes more dangerous. Big Bang Mini gives more as it demands more, and this makes each new level freshly challenging.
In addition to new challenges, each level brings a new, wildly different presentation. From the neon techno pixel landscape of the Egyptian-themed Luxor, to the bawdy colors and trippy musicians of Rio de Janeiro, each level in Big Bang Mini is a treat for the eyes. Attractive backgrounds scroll by smoothly, and the unique (often bizarre) enemies and explosions are a pleasure to look at when you can spare a moment. Underscoring these impressive visuals are some excellent musical tracks that range from snappy electric beats to mellow atmospheric melodies. The level of artistic quality and variety in Big Bang Mini is truly impressive, and the presentation alone is reason enough to recommend the game.
As if stellar presentation and exciting core gameplay weren't enough, Big Bang Mini offers a number of extras to keep you interested. At the completion of each stage (bosses excluded) you'll get the chance to complete a bonus stage. These are connect-the-dots minigames that will light up the top screen with a firework constellation should you succeed. Each level features a different twist (some quite clever), making these bonuses a pleasant palate cleanser between stages. Completing the Arcade mode is no easy feat, but doing so will earn you access to the Mission mode. This mode imposes tough challenges on stages you've already played, so you might be charged with clearing a certain stage within a time limit, using a certain number of shots, or never missing a shot. These conditions force you to adapt your well-honed strategy, so even skilled players will find a challenge here.
For those players who prefer to match their skills against human opponents, Big Bang Mini offers two ways to do so. The Challenge mode harks back to Big Bang Mini's shoot-'em-up roots and is the only mode in which you'll earn points. The core gameplay mechanics are the same, but the enemies, visuals, and music are completely new. Once you perish, you can post your high scores to online leaderboards and see how you stack up. If you prefer a more immediate competition, the Versus mode lets you challenge another DS owner to a shoot-out with only one game card. In Versus, you hold the DS sideways and shoot volleys of fireworks at your opponent on the other screen. Various power-ups and environmental hazards spice things up, and battles can get very heated, especially given that players can tap each other's projectiles to send them rocketing back where they came from. These extra modes provide great opportunities to flex your competitive muscle, while the unlockable Relax mode (watch and control fireworks displays) and Alarm Clock (actually cool, thanks to the stellar music) offer fun rewards for dedicated single-player play.
Big Bang Mini is an excellent shooter with an innovative control scheme that will please newcomers and veterans alike. To fully experience each level's uniquely awesome aesthetic and face the delightfully clever end boss, you simply must play the game all the way through. Once you've done so, there is plenty more to do whether you thrive on competition or just want to live it all again. Add it all up, and you've got one of the most accessible, most entertaining, and most attractive DS games in recent memory. Then consider the $19.99 price tag, and it's a no-brainer: Big Bang Mini is a must-buy.