Posted by Bryan Griffin
Air traffic, controlled!
Managing time can be difficult: work, school, cleaning the house or anything else that you are compelled to spend your time on are usually no-brainers. You gotta do what you gotta do, though, and in Armada you gotta guide various flying vehicles to land safely on aircraft carriers in the middle of the ocean.
The core of the game has you tapping aircraft on the touchscreen and drawing a line to the designated landing zone on a giant ship. Certain types of craft can only land on specific areas of the ship, such as a landing strip for fighter jets and a helipad for helicopters. The top screen is used as a radar display that shows your current and high scores, any vehicle approaching the ship and your reputation points. Reputation points are sort of like a life bar: if you lose all of your reputation points, the game is over. You can build your reputation by successfully guiding planes to land, but it's hurt by losing aircraft or missing targets, so be careful.
The three difficulty modes offer a nice learning curve and are named after military ranks. The easiest setting, Lieutenant, offers a small aircraft carrier with two places to land and three different planes to guide to safety. Next is the Commander setting, where you'll have a larger ship and five different aircraft. The Admiral setting is the most difficult and adds an element of action to the game. Using a missile launcher in the center of your huge tanker, you can shoot enemy units as well as pick up point bonuses while guiding a whopping six varieties of aircraft to a safe landing.
The gameplay is hectic in a good way. Each of your units flies at a different speed and is a different size, so you'll need to draw flight paths that avoid collisions while allowing everything to land and relaunch quickly. You're not given very much breathing room, and it would've been nice if you could bring friendly ships closer together in midair without blowing them up, but it's a minor complaint. The game really makes you feel like you are in control: the aircraft follow your flight plan closely and the controls feel very precise. A nice touch is that you have to tap a ship to relaunch it, rather than it automatically jumping back into the sky. It’s a small detail that makes you feel like you are controlling every aspect an air traffic controller should need to worry about.
The options and settings also add to the fun and make this game very worthwhile. You can tune the playing speed up and down or take a quick tutorial in how to play, but it's in the statistics menu where you can really tell someone at Zoo Games was paying attention to detail. The game tracks your high scores in each difficulty setting, as well as an array of stats: total play time, average time spent playing, your average score, total number of crashes and landings and the maximum number of crafts you’ve seen on screen at one time. In addition to all that, you can also earn medals for hitting certain milestones, with six categories to earn medals in, and three variations of each. For instance, once you successfully land fifteen planes, you’ll earn a bronze medal in that category, but once you land fifty you’ll earn the gold. Reaching for achievements and tracking your progress will bring you back to Armada time and again.
The graphics are simple in a good way. Almost everything you’ll be paying attention to is a shade of green, brown or grey, but enemy units are easily distinguished by colour, which helps when the screen is filled with friends and foes. Armada won’t be winning any art direction awards, but it’s no big deal. The game is fun and they aren’t distracting. The music tracks aren’t orchestrated masterpieces or instant classics, but they do summon the spirit of an intense air battle. Guiding the aircraft to safety while nodding your head along to militant beats makes you feel like an air traffic controller is just as important as a fighter pilot. Too bad the music becomes a little repetitive after a while because it loops very quickly. The variety of sound effects adds depth to the game and immerses you in the action, with whooshes when a plane takes off and sickening explosions when they crash. Each sound is so distinct that even when you’re distracted and paying attention to another part of the screen, you’ll know what’s going on with your units.
Sadly, there is no multiplayer option. A versus mode would’ve been nice, especially with the rocket launcher to turn the heat up. A strong single player experience is worth the absence of multiplayer though, another aspect that developers seem to overlook these days. You can still have fun with your friends and family by comparing high scores and trying to take the top spot. The game is easy to pick up and play, but hard to master – the perfect mix for a DSiWare title.
A nice variety of settings and several small touches make the game polished and fun to play, and although slightly bland graphics and repetitive music are a drawback, but the sound effects are spot on. The sheer number of things the game keeps track of is impressive, and fans of arcade-style point tracking won’t be disappointed. Achieving every medal will take some time for the dedicated player. If you’re a fan of the genre, consider this game. However, it may become boring to a gamer that doesn’t love strategy and high scores. Who knew being an air traffic controller could be so fun?