Escape the Virus: Shoot 'em Up! is a top-down twin stick arcade shooter without the twin sticks. As a tiny bit of friendly bacteria, you zoom about firing out rounds of red and blue pills at an endless onslaught of nasty-looking viruses, shooting in whichever direction you're moving. The viruses always eventually win, so the drugs clearly don't work massively well – it's just a matter of staying alive as long as possible, racking up the points and taking as many of them with you as possible.
But without online leaderboards, a whole load of Shoot 'em Up!'s potential is drained away immediately. You can compete against yourself or pass the handheld around, of course, but it feels a bit empty without an online component; there's no option to enter your name in the local high score table to soften the blow, so you just have to remember who scored what. The core shooting mechanic is solid, but it's all too easy to see everything Escape the Virus: Shoot 'em Up! has to offer in a few sessions – the enemies just get thicker and faster the longer you survive.
The top screen displays the action, while the bottom screen shows a large view of your character, which reacts to its surroundings with its single comical eye. There are two control options that can be switched between at will: you can use the D-Pad to move, face buttons to jump and shoulder buttons to zoom in and out of the play field, or the stylus can be used for movement with a touch screen double tap to leap. We never felt much need to hop, either way; with so many enemies about, it's all too easy to bounce out of one danger zone right into another.
The latter option is infinitely better; the D-Pad control is clunky, it's difficult to aim while stationary and you have no power over your movement speed. That might not have necessarily been a bad thing if the constant pace wasn't set so fast. It's all too easy to careen into enemies and smash through your three lives in no time at all, your bacteria moving far too quickly and without the accuracy required.
Use the stylus and it's a different game – your speed is controlled by how far from the centre of the touch screen you hold down, and you can turn and fire in any direction more smoothly. While you might well end up accelerating to the speed offered by the D-Pad, you can at least do so in your own time and slow down when you need to navigate more carefully; in practically every game we played with the stylus we scooped up three-, four- or fivefold the points scored in rounds tested with the D-Pad scheme.
Two modes are included, though the longevity is stunted by the high score shortcomings. Shooter is a straight game of survival, while the more interesting Territory has you guarding black holes that pop up around the map. When one appears you have to go and sit on it until it activates, protecting it from invading enemies so that it can mature into a huge vortex that sucks in bad guys for a few seconds. It's in Territory that the zoom out function is most essential, so you can more easily see where the next portal is; there's a zoom in when you press both shoulder buttons simultaneously, too, but it moves so close to the main character and restricts your view of the playfield so much that it's pointless.
As well as your standard weapons there are also power-ups that can send your disease killers all over the screen in a satisfying all-curing kaleidoscope. They're slickly pointed out by the cuter-than-you'd-expect main character, which rotates its eye in the general direction of the treat, its pupil replaced by a longing heart; it does the same, minus the heart, when locating black holes in Territory. It can get a bit predictable, though: in Shooter, the power-up will always, always turn up in the first 15 – 30 seconds of play, no matter how well you're playing or how many lives you've lost.
As a whole, Escape the Virus: Shoot 'em Up!'s visuals are of low resolution and pixelated; the text within the in-game interface suffers from this most. The character designs, on the other hand, are fine, and there's quite a stylish camera swoop that twists the overhead view into 3D, while keeping all characters and environment flat and 2D, when you lose all your lives. The audio is all over the place: the music is jaunty but very repetitive, and the sound effects are just odd: clown horns, for example.
For just 200 Nintendo Points, Escape the Virus: Shoot 'em Up! certainly isn't a bad game – it just doesn't particularly excel either. While it's fun to try to best your score for a while, and charging head-first through enemies is pretty satisfying, for a game of this type the high score options don't hold enough weight. However, if that isn't a problem for you and you're just after something cheap to bust some stress for a few minutes at a time, Shoot 'em Up! might be worth considering.