First Impressions: Escape Virus

A fun little mobile game for WiiWare

Escape Virus is the freshman effort from Peakvox - an iPhone and mobile game developer - with the focus being on pick-up-and-play arcade gaming and ascending to the top of the world ranking in each of five game modes.

The menus throughout the game look like metal car number plates which drop onto a titled plane with a nice clanging sound. It's a bold and interesting effect, though the tilted aspect can make it hard to read the menu options towards the top of the screen due to the forced perspective. The game is WiFi enabled with the focus on getting the best score in the leaderboards. There are no local leaderboards; in fact I'm not sure you can play the game without WiFi enabled because the first thing that happens before you even create a save game profile is a prompt to connect to the WiFi network - well it's not really a prompt because there's no choice other than pressing the A button to continue!

After getting connected you're prompted to create a save profile (there are five slots available) using a romaji character palette for inputting your name. After this is done you can then peruse the other menu choices. The game has the usual options for adjusting the volume of the sound in-game and the soundtrack (a nice bunch of pop-electro tunes) as well as turning off the wiimote rumble (wiimote + nunchuck is the only available control option that I can see).

Before getting to the game modes, here's a little information on the game itself. You control what looks like a red magnifying lens with a big eye replacing the glass and two little arms coming out of it. In three of the game modes you're trying to rescue other magnifying lenses from things that look like spiky balls or rampaging cyclops-eyed free-roaming nipples (honestly, I don't know what else to call them) - these are presumably the titular viruses from which you must escape. You have only one life in any of the modes and the controls consist of the control stick, which moves your magnifying lens about, the d-pad which can shift the camera - but is really only for effect since it's mostly confusing and the game moves to fast for it to be of much use - and the A button which allows you to jump over the bad nipples (featuring some nice sprite-scaling as your character zooms up towards the screen).

Visually it's very much a 2D affair, but with some nice touches. The characters have a simple hand-drawn cartoony look to them without a blocky polygon or pixellated sprite in sight. Colours abound with your hero character being a nice bright red and allied characters being blue, red, yellow or white and enemy characters being purply-greens and generally nasty-looking with red eyes and such. The playfield is a fixed rectangle several screens across vertically and horizontally with the look of being some kind of lab slide (or LCD on a circuit board judging from the grey-and-black playfield border). The 2D characters seem to be suspended in some kind of fluid which your character disrupts with great visual flare as he moves about distorting the image of the background yellow-and-orange grid pattern.

And now for the actual games!

"Normal" mode consists of guiding your magnifying lens about and touching other ones which then stick to you until you've created a massive conga-line of magnifying lenses of various colours, but this is not to last because viruses start appearing and multiplying and generally getting in your way. If you run into them with your character, it's game over. If your conga line touches them everyone from that point to the end of the conga is broken loose and alarms begin sounding and the little magnifying lenses start crying their little eyes out with animated tears/sweat coming off them and little countdown clocks ticking on each of them. The more lenses in your line the bigger your bonus multiplier; if you cannot get the errant ones back they die or you lose your bonus or something. If you're in a tight spot you can use "A" to jump the viruses, but if you've got a big conga line then odds are some of your pals will get clipped, so use it sparingly. There are also two special items that appear at various places on the playfield from time to time: rockets and hypos. Touch the rocket icon and three rockets launch homing in on enemy virii. Once hit they turn into black silhouettes which you can touch to get bonus points on top of the ones for blasting them. The green glowing hypo turns you and your conga line into a flaming snake that can incinerate viruses at a touch for a limited time.

The next mode is "Radio Control," which took me a couple of tries to figure out. Your magnifying lens now has what appears to be a tiny flag on a wire coming out of it like a remote controlled race car - seems obvious, now that I think of it. It plays the same as normal mode, but your character is moving forward constantly. Press left or right on the control stick to turn (gee, just like an RC racer!), forward to turbo in your current direction, or back to put on the brakes. No, I really don't know what the point is.

In "Hold" mode you don't have to save anyone, but instead try to destroy viruses with the rockets. Instead of three rockets, only one spawns; after it hits a virus a new icon appears with a multiplier increment. Touch it to launch it again, follow it, repeat. As the multiplier increases the rocket gets smaller, but there are others to trigger on the board as well. Not that this matters as more and more viruses appear until you have nowhere to run. No jumps are allowed in this one.

The fourth mode is "Zoom Ichinippa" (itchy nipple?). In this mode the screen is zoomed in so you cannot see much of the playfield surrounding your character. You need to rescue the other magnifying lenses, but this time they're absorbed into you when you touch them and your character increases in size which makes moving around ever more treacherous. There are a total of 128 other lenses to rescue on the playfield - assuming you don't run into any viruses - and then the game ends.

The final mode is "Shooter" and sees you constantly firing two streams of blue-and-red capsules that look like they came out of Dr. Mario. Viruses are plentiful so blast as many as you can. There is an occasional power object in the form of a giant blue and red capsule which causes you to blast pills in every direction like an anti-virus death ball - truly a sight to behold!

Whether or not the game modes appeal to you, what cannot be argued is that this game has gotten the implementation of WiFi leaderboards correct. After every game ends the World Record board pops up with your place in it and you can press "+" to view the top 30. After the WiFi connection at the game start there are no further prompts, there are no buttons to press to upload your scores or anything else - it just does it. Press A and you can restart the existing game, view the leaderboard again or go back to the main menu. How simple is that?

The game modes are a mixed bag, but for 500 points it's not a bad value. Given the leaderboards are "World Record" boards and Peakvox seems to produce iPhone games for markets other than Japan I'd be very surprised if this doesn't get released overseas.

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