Review: Airburst 1.0.1
Developer: Strange Flavour (product page)
Price: $5 (£2)
Requirements: Mac OS 8.6/9.x with CarbonLib 1.2.5 or Mac OS X 10.0.4.
Recommended: 300 MHz G3, Rage 128. We recommend making a backup copy of version 1.0 before upgrading to 1.0.1, as some readers experienced incompatibility problems with certain configurations. Strange Flavour is working on a fix.
Trial: Feature-limited (first two game types only and no balloon editor)
Most veteran gamers have played Breakout, Bricks, Pong, or any of their variations at some point in their lives. Although these are simple games, they exert a certain fascination on most people who try them. Airburst squares that fascination. Although Airburst takes some ideas from other games, the combination is so unique and amazingly well done that one cannot help but become addicted to the game.
Airburst was written by two brothers from the UK whose software company, “Strange Flavour,” had its debut with the side-scrolling action game BushFire not long ago. When I first tried Airburst, I was struck by the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that found its way into the game, something one rarely finds these days in shareware games, except from the big shareware developers like Ambrosia and Freeverse.
What makes Airburst a hit is its flawless combination of amazing graphics, well-done music and sound effects, and addictive game play. Another reason why I still am drawn to the game after many hours of game play is the sheer quantity of variation the game has to offer. There are twelve game types, which run on many different levels with unique characteristics.
What Is It?
The idea is simple. In Airburst, each player controls a character sitting on a big balloon (called a “Floater”), surrounded by protective rings of smaller balloons. Each player has a “bat” or “paddle” that he can move around his balloon in a circular way (clockwise or counter-clockwise). The exact goal depends on the game type, but in general you’ll try to avoid being hit by the spiked ball(s) in the game by deflecting it/them with your bat. You can deflect them onto other players or various bonus power-ups that you encounter. If you cannot deflect the ball and it hits your balloons, they will “burst.” Once the balls make their way through to your big center balloon, you lose and fall down the Earth. Similarly, a well placed ball can send your opponents tumbling down once their protective shields are gone.
Too Many Balls
The first two game types, Levels and DM, are available in the free version. Playing and winning them will unlock further games in the registered version:
Levels: In a levels game, the last player surviving wins the level and progresses to the next. Each level is defined by having different power-ups available in it. The distribution of power-ups changes the style and tactics required for each level. Every five levels, there is a bonus level, where one player must try to collect all the points bonuses without losing any shield balloons.
DM: DeathMatch! Protected only by a single ring of shield balloons, players must try to shoot each other down. For each player you shoot down, you score a “kill.” When there is only one player remaining, all the other players are respawned, and play continues. The winner is the first person to 10 kills.
Castles: An extra Floater, called the Castle and surrounded by shield balloons is set in the center of the play area with a sticker on it. The winner is the player who manages to shoot down the castle (all other players’ Floaters will automatically burst when this happens). If no players survive and the castle is still airborne, then the castle is declared the winner. If you win a Castles game, you also win the sticker to place on your shield balloons (using the balloon editor).
Catch The Frog: This is a team game. When playing a team game, each player controls all the computer players on his team (third and fourth players only control their own characters). To play Catch The Frog, you must capture the Flying Frog by hitting it with the ball. Whichever team owns the frog cannot be shot down, as their players will automatically respawn if their floaters burst. The team without the frog doesn’t respawn; the aim of the game being to shoot down both opposing teams while owning the frog.
Thief: This game is a variant of Levels. It works the same, but players only start with two rings of shield balloons. Every time a ball owned by you bursts an opponent’s balloon, you “steal” that balloon and it is added to your own defenses.
Football: This is of course, Airburst Football, not real football or soccer. Each team has three players: a goalkeeper (with no shield balloons and a bigger, sticky bat) and two strikers (with a single ring of shield balloons). Instead of a standard Airburst ball, a modified version is used for the primary ball. If this primary ball gets into the goal area, the opposing team scores.
A Game of Football
Team Levels: These are similar to ordinary levels, but with two teams of four players. The surviving team wins the level.
Super DM: This is like the normal DeathMatch, but more scary: there are no shield balloons!
Chaos: You’ll never fully understand chaos until you try a levels game with completely random power-ups!
Dual: Duals were once used as a challenge between two players with a grudge against each other. Players start facing away from each other, each with a ball and a soon-to-time-out sticky bat. They float away from each other for five seconds, turn and fire. The survivor is declared the winner and best arguer of the two.
Dogs: Otherwise known as Mexican Standoff. Up to eight players face into the center of a circle; each of them has a ball and a short-time sticky bat. The survivor (if any) wins.
Grenades: Russian Grenade Roulette, a very dangerous game. Set up like a normal Levels game, each player has three rings of shield balloons. However, when the first player loses a balloon, a hand grenade with a ten-second fuse is teleported to him. To lose the grenade, he must burst one of the other players’ balloons, in which case the grenade will teleport to that player, with the timer still ticking down. When the grenade’s timer reaches zero, it explodes, bursting the floater of the player carrying it. Play continues, with another grenade as soon as someone else loses a balloon. The winner is the surviving player.
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What gives the game extra appeal are the various power-ups you’ll encounter. They spawn multiple balls, slow down or speed up the balls, shrink or grow your bat, make it sticky so you can aim your shots, give you pop-gun ammo, remove your bat temporarily, and much more. The power-ups can turn the tide of the game in moments.
As entertaining as the single-player game is (against up to 15 computer opponents for some game types), the real fun lies in playing against other humans. Currently all human players (up to four) have to be on the same machine. Strange Flavour is working on a more networkable (LAN, Internet, and hopefully GameRanger) version for the near future. There are few moments with such pure gratification as seeing your friend’s character tumble down to Earth after you have popped his or her balloon.
Version 1.0.1 adds a few bug fixes, especially when it comes to non-standard monitor resolutions, as well as the ability to control bat speed.
Overall, Airburst is a game I can recommend to everyone. It has plenty of action, but it’s not like the Quake or Unreal shooter games. The limited amount of violence makes it suitable for a family game because it holds plenty of fun and excitement for the younger members, but also enough serious entertainment for the adults. Seasoned players will appreciate the balloon editor, which lets each player customize her balloon colors and place stickers won in Castle games. I only wish Strange Flavour had included more than four characters. The game is Carbonized and runs very well under OS X. All that for an incredible low price, or free trial version with unlimited play in the first two game types, makes Airburst a must-try.