Game

It turns out to survive tiny claustrophobic nightmare realms, one finger’s all you need

Forget 3D shooters full of army dudes in grim sandy surroundings or bulky, armored space marines inching along gritty sci-fi techno-corridors — arena shooters are where it’s at for high-octane blasting thrills. From veteran Robotron to the trippy Geometry Wars, the best arena shooters have crammed the concept of blasting everything that moves into a shoebox — single-screen cages in which you frantically battle endless waves of enemies until your inevitable demise.

It’s a simple, thrilling foundation for a videogame, and Spooklands strips everything back further, resulting in a streamlined, modern take on the genre. Rather than utilising a virtual dual-stick set-up, the controls in Spooklands require only a single finger. As your little on-screen hero battles for their very life, you tap where you want them to fire; recoil from the weapon then moves them in the opposite direction. Hold the screen for a second and you power up your special weapon; on release, its recoil will catapult you backwards more than standard ordinance.

Spooklands level 1

We’re not sure this is entirely historically accurate.

Risk vs reward

This control set-up immediately differentiates Spooklands from its contemporaries and forebears. Traditionally, arena shooters have been about careful, considered, fluid movement and then using your gun stick to obliterate anything that comes near you. By combining movement and firepower, Spooklands demands constant tiny decisions to be made with every shot, weighing up risk versus reward, not least when using special weapons. As a horde of giant enemies rampages ever closer, do you pick them off one by one, or take them all out at once, but risk clattering into a scout coming at you from behind?

At first, the sheer pace of Spooklands feels overwhelming, and it’s easy to get disheartened from being rapidly overrun again and again. But you soon learn strategies for coping and survival. Incoming foes are signposted by glowing arena borders, giving you a second to position yourself. Get high enough scores and new kinds of temporary firepower are unlocked, which are randomly dumped into the centre of the playfield, providing yet another risk/reward mechanic.

Spooklands weapons

Shoot even more things and you get new weapons for further death-dealing.

Three times the nightmare

Along with the relentless arcade thrills, Spooklands is smart enough to provide at least a little variety. Get a high enough score in the initial arena, which sees a little cave person hurling axes at an oddball prehistoric menagerie, and you unlock an arachnophobic’s nightmare; a spider’s nest, chock full of eight-legged critters that eventually approach house-like proportions. The final zone – Necropolis – keeps up the spooky theme, having you face off against shrouded ghouls and nightmarish death skulls.

Spooklands spiders

SPIDERS! So many spiders! ARRRGGHH!

If there’s a problem with Spooklands, bar that initial difficulty hump, it’s only that in tapping to shoot you sometimes obscure speedy enemies galloping towards you, but that can be forgiven for the developer providing a smart new mobile-friendly twist on an age-old arcade favourite — and one that’ll keep you battling for high scores until your finger cramps up from all the action.

Price: $0.99/69p
Size: 32.9 MB
Version: 1.0.0
Developer: Luderia Jogos Digitais Ltda

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Spooklands review: one finger to kill them all
A great arena shooter for your iPhone. And although it’s not exactly bursting with depth, it’ll always be good for a quick blast
For
  • Three creepy environments
  • Straightforward controls
  • Very replayable
Against
  • Somewhat unforgiving
  • Thumbs can cover what you’re aiming at
4.0Overall Score