It's a tale that's old as time: a puzzle game is released that requires you to match up three of the same colour in order to clear the screen and advance through levels. It is inevitably compared to Bubble Bobble and Bejeweled, and usually labelled as a clone of one or the other. Astro Bugz Revenge can safely be added to the list of these games, but its unique features and personality help to set it apart from its common counterparts. The game adds a dimension of action to the mix, with enemies that shoot you and several power-ups that can save you when the going gets rough.
You control the game with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, using the control stick to move your ship left and right across the screen to collect stars, and the A button to shoot a bug at the twirling mass of invading Bugz slowly making their way down the screen. The colour of your next shot is indicated by a beam of light emanated by your ship. If you can get three or more Bugz of the same colour to connect, they will disappear, which releases power-ups and earns you points. If the horde of space-insects reaches the bottom of the screen, it's game over and you'll have to repeat the level.
Power-ups come in many forms, from stopping the progress of the Bugz creeping down the screen to fireballs that shoot directly through the enemies regardless of color. Some are more useful than others, and you’ll want to avoid collecting a certain power up if the situation isn’t right. For instance, you’ll almost always want to collect the power-up that makes each bug smaller, giving you more time to clear them all away. You may elect to avoid the wild card power-up that causes your shots to become any colour near the end of a round, because you may end up adding to your enemy's forces accidentally. The random nature of the power-ups adds some excitement to the game, but they are just frosting on the cake, not what you’re playing for. Going out of your way to collect power-ups when you should be focusing on clearing the screen is a quick road to losing the game.
The fun of Astro Bugz Revenge comes from its several different modes of play. Each mode offers several difficulty levels to choose from, and the bonus of playing with either 1 or 2 players. You can keep four different save profiles per mode, and the game automatically tracks your progress.
Classic Mode represents the heart of the game, with the typical objectives that have been featured in several other games. You’ll also be avoiding enemy fire and coping with the rotating nature of your enemies. The mass of insects you’re battling doesn’t move towards you in a straight line, it slowly rotates and grows. Because of this, you’ll have to time your shots carefully and think ahead. If you miss a cluster of Bugz the first time you’ll have to avoid cluttering up the area so you can get them the next time around. There is a percentage number at the top of the screen to indicate your accuracy; if you're able to complete a level with an accuracy of 80% or higher, you enter a bonus game where you shoot Bugz by pointing with the Wii Remote. The bonus round is more like collecting star bits in Super Mario Galaxy than classic light-gun games like Duck Hunt, because you don't use a button to decide when to shoot; you simply sweep the cursor across the screen. There are fifty levels to complete, and because the game tracks your accuracy and high scores, the replay value is high.
Revenge Mode is where Astro Bugz Revenge starts to deviate from many similar games. This time around, you assume the role of the Bugz, and your goal is to overwhelm the enemy ship at the bottom of the screen. What makes this mode fun and different is that you're able to control the movement of the Bugz you shoot with the control stick. A new dimension of strategy is always a good thing, and with fifty more levels to exact revenge in, the replay value of this game is heading towards being described as "robust", and possibly "extensive".
Versus Mode can be played either against a human player or against AI. The objective is to break through your opponent’s wall of Bugz by clearing them away in the typical fashion. Once you can shoot a bug straight through your opponent’s wall, you score a point. The number of points required to win can be set before the match starts. The AI isn't a pushover, so it's pretty fun to practice against when a friend isn't around. Having a buddy to play with doubles the fun and makes this mode quite addicting.
The graphics of the game appear rubbery and a bit lifeless, but the bright colours and lighting style make up for it a bit. The Bugz themselves seem like they would be squishy if you touched them, or possibly a little slimy or wet. Despite their appearance, the sounds of clearing an insect away is more like a popping noise than a squishing noise, leading to a slight disconnect between the graphics and audio, but you may only notice if you've set out to judge it. The music is typical space-themed fare and generally blends into the background when the action heats ups. Nothing stands out as amazing as far as presentation goes, but at least there aren't any glaring problems.
Action-puzzlers come in many forms, and Astro Bugz Revenge borrows heavily from several well-established games. It also has some unique twists and enough replay value to keep you coming back. When you consider that the entire game can be played with a friend, it becomes even more attractive, meaning an entire family or group of friends can share the game on one Wii because of the multiple save profiles you can keep. There is nothing brand-new about how the game is played, but all of the elements come together to form an addicting and fun experience. A great video game is one that is more than the sum of its parts, and Astro Bugz Revenge is just that. It may even bring gamers that don’t usually enjoy this type of game into the fold. If you’re a fan of the genre, it’s definitely a safe bet.