Without question, lightgun games have become a Wii staple. Between standalone disc releases, original WiiWare titles and mini-game compilations you've really got your pick when it comes to games you can play whilst pretending your remote is a gun. Now developer Intelligent Systems, of Fire Emblem and WarioWare fame, has offered their own original take on the genre with Eco Shooter: Plant 530 for WiiWare.
Like other lightgun games, the Remote pointer moves an on-screen cursor about the screen so you can shoot things. What sets Eco Shooter apart from the other "rail shooters" on the Wii is the energy management aspect, which introduces an added level of strategy beyond shooting everything that moves to get a high score.
The backstory of the game is that some nasty aliens have come to Earth to destroy humanity and what better way than with all the rubbish we've discarded over the years? Thankfully there's a trusty blue-collar dude from recycling plant #530 equipped with state-of-the-art can-blasting technology to take down the fiendish aliens' rubbishy robots composed of human refuse!
After seeing our hard-hatted hero gear up and board a floating platform in a brief intro scene, the view changes to a familiar first-person perspective -- all the better to gun down the metal miscreants! The enemies in the game are all tins of various types: soft drinks, tomatoes, chilies, aerosol cans and oil drums. Most of these are animated in some way: drinking tins have cut ends and fly around, groups of tins link up and inch along like giant metal worms or burst up out of the ground like Lovecraftian Meccano tentacles, and most shocking of all: tins amassed around a central glowing red core in the shape of a human being.
You won't run short of empties to blast into oblivion, that's for sure, but that doesn't mean you can just go crazy and hold down the fire button. Every shot uses a unit of your Gun Energy so you'll need to keep it topped up if you're going to save the world from the junk-man. This is easily done by clicking the vacuum button to hoover up energy spheres left behind by fallen foes. Moving tins will require at least two hits to dispatch: one to "kill" them and one to convert them into energy. You'll also find oil drums laying about which can be converted in one hit if you need a quick top-up (apparently the laws of thermodynamics don't apply in this game and you get more energy than you use to destroy them). Whilst you can hold down the fire button to go into auto-fire mode and take out loads of rubbish in short order, this does tend to run down your energy quicker.
There's added incentive to go for precision in the form of combo point bonuses for hitting targets in succession, which you're less likely to achieve whilst spraying everything in sight. In order to keep your momentum going you'll need to switch back and forth between hoovering and blasting. The gauge in the upper left will show you the number of shots remaining in the current charge bar with around a dozen in reserve that you can fill as you go. Collecting energy is as easy as pressing and moving the cursor near the energy spheres. Whilst this is happening the camera movement also slows allowing you to grab energy before moving on to the next area. Don't hold it down too long though, lest you overheat the motor! When is pressed, a gauge appears in the centre of the screen and fills up, changing from green to yellow to red, which takes around 3 seconds. If you do overheat you won't be able to suck up any more energy until a similar amount of time has elapsed, by which point you may have missed out on needed energy when you get to the boss at the end of the "chapter."
The end boss of each chapter is similar to the "can-men" that act as a sort of sub-boss mid-chapter, consisting of a glowing red brick around which other tins have been amassed to create a vortex of viridium violence, or a Great Mazinga of manganese madness. In each case, the bosses have flashing bits that must be destroyed. When in rubbish-robo form, the boss will get up close and personal as some of these can be hard to spot from a distance. All the while various empty sardine and vegetable oil tins are hurled at you as weapons. It will take several rounds of flashing target blasting before the red brick can be hit directly. After doing this a half-dozen times the boss is defeated and your score totalled. If you make the grade your name will be recorded on a local leaderboard for later glory-basking purposes, huzzah!
Visually the game looks as good as a retail release. The energy spheres are colourful and translucent; everything has a nice, polished look to it with enemies ranging from little bouncing tins to sky-filling soda dirigibles. When the bosses are whirling vortices of metal you can blast individual tins out of the spinning mass which fall to the ground like so much aluminium rain. The music is passable if unobtrusive, and sound effects comprise nice "pew-pews" from your recycling cannon and "roaring" of bosses. The only clue you have to the presence of hidden "bonus" enemies is the sound of rustling metal, so when there's nothing in sight and you hear that noise try blasting random areas to see who's hiding for some extra points!
If there's anything really negative about the game it's a lack of control options and the length. The game is designed for the Wii Zapper peripheral so you have to use the Nunchuk even if you don't have a Zapper shell. Given there's only two buttons it's not clear why this has been mandated. It would have been nice to just use the remote on its own, but the only configuration choice beyond adjusting the horizontal and vertical aiming (for Zapper calibration) is to swap the and functions.
There's only three chapters to play through, with the completion of one unlocking the next. After you beat the 3rd chapter Challenge Mode is unlocked, in which you play all three back-to-back with your energy levels carrying over unchanged between chapters, which definitely makes it more challenging. There's more things to shoot than you can possibly hit and hidden enemies or special objects like floating stars, but whilst replays can result in different scores after a few hours you've seen everything the game has to offer. Other than a tutorial option which makes things a bit easier by presenting you with less enemies, there's no other difficulty options either, which might make the 1,000 point price tag seem a bit high for some.
Intelligent Systems is one of the best internal development teams at Nintendo and they've delivered a cracking lightgun game for WiiWare which ticks the boxes in the visuals and gameplay departments. Players might be put off by the short length and lack of multiplayer -- which means it probably won't get as much playtime after the first runthrough by anyone but high score junkies, but if you're a fan of the genre it's worth a look.