I love arcade-style games. They offer such simple pleasure, with quick thrills, a mantra of easy to learn but hard to master, and you can drop in and out of them at any time. The Mac has seen its share of great arcade space shooters over the years, thanks to shareware classics from the likes of Ambrosia Software (Maelstrom, SketchFighter, Mars Rising) and Pangea Software (Pangea Arcade), among others.
While Sad Cat Software’s Violet Storm is a decent and mostly-fun game, it doesn’t hold a candle to these or other popular recent games owing to the legacy of 1979 arcade hit Asteroids (such as Geometry Wars, to which Violet Storm is highly indebted). But at $1.99, it might just be worth a look anyway. Allow me to explain why.
You can’t get a much simpler premise than that found in Violet Storm. The instructions sum it up well, “Destroy everything that moves and [everything] that doesn’t.” Try to do it quickly, too, because waves are timed and you get more points for destroying more enemies.
You can use either the arrow keys or the traditional WASD combo to move your ship. Click and hold the left mouse button to shoot; bullets fire out in the direction of the mouse pointer relative to your ship, which stays centred on the screen as you move about. It’s not a good game for trackpads, so use an external mouse if you have one. I couldn’t get any gamepads to work.
You’ll also pick up gravity bombs and “destructive multi-laser blasts.” Press the 1 or 2 keys, or click their icons on the screen, to use them. They prove invaluable for clearing out the screen when it all gets to be too much. Sometimes you’ll get a brief reprieve from the intense action with a few seconds of invulnerability or quad damage. Run out of life and it’s game over.
There are three game modes: Campaign, Speed Havoc, and Sniper Mode. Campaign is an odd name to give something that never ends, but it’s the one to pick if you just want to see how long you can last — it’s the traditional arcade mode, with continuous waves of enemies. Some enemies can shoot, but most just try to collide with you. Waves are timed to 1:32 each, with a congratulatory pop-up at the end. You get lots of extra points that can be collected during the 15-second cool-down period between waves.
Speed Havoc asks you to destroy 650 enemies as quickly as possible, with a maximum time of six minutes and 12 seconds. Sniper mode gives you a stronger weapon and a 1:32 time limit, and scores you based on your accuracy. Each can be played on easy, medium, or hard difficulty. Your health is shown by a white bar beneath the score. Scores are automatically uploaded to the online leaderboards.
Violet Storm was on iOS first, and it shows. The controls actually work pretty well — certainly better than I expected — but the game still has some interface issues. To pause the action, you must click on the Menu button in the top right of screen. Controls cannot be mapped to alternative keys. The space key fires, but you can’t direct shots if you use it. And leaderboards can only be navigated by clicking and dragging on the scoreboard area — the mouse wheel doesn’t work, nor do arrow keys, and there’s no scrollbar. There’s also no back button.
Violet Storm’s neon-futuristic vector graphics are a joy to behold, with your Mac’s display filled glowing enemies, bullets, and lasers of all the fluorescent colors that you can imagine. This is most notable at higher levels, when it can be hard to see more than a few millimeters of background space. The background itself is a generic shot of space tinted purple, blue, green, and red by gases refracting light. This background image is overlaid with a grid, presumably to help you gauge distance — although in reality it adds nothing of use.
Press Command-F to switch to full-screen, for a much better experience.
The game rewards you for doing well with ever more stunning visual feasts and a stronger main weapon. What starts as a continuous stream of single bullets eventually becomes a searing bolt of electricity pouring out in all directions. It’s immensely satisfying, but once you get the basics down the first few waves drag on and feel boring. Upping the difficulty to hard alleviates this problem, but only for a while.
This is where Violet Storm suffers most; it’s really repetitive. The Campaign mode gets your adrenaline pumping after half a dozen or more waves, but you’ll feel less inclined to push through to that point each time you play. There simply isn’t enough variety to keep players coming back. Speed Havoc and Sniper Mode are effectively token offerings — with no additional levels, they last only as long as the novelty factor (which wore off after two goes on each of them for me).
The main music track is more than two minutes long, but you wouldn’t know it from playing the game. It loops slight variations in its heavy electronic beats every seven seconds. Sound effects are believable enough, but they can get grating over time. Turn both sound and music down or off completely if you have a headache.
Consider Your Options
It doesn’t help that I’ve seen this all before, only better. Violet Storm, the gamers among you may recognize, is like a poor man’s Geometry Wars. Or maybe that should be a Mac user’s Geometry Wars, since the downloadable Xbox 360 hit series never made it over. If you’ve got an older version of OS X installed, the PowerPC build of freeware clone Grid Wars 2 is still floating around online (despite being officially pulled from circulation). Or you could grab a copy of MAME and the original arcade version of Robotron 2084 to go back to the core inspiration. These would all be better options.
If you’re stuck, though, and keen for some dual-stick shooter action, Violet Storm is a decent choice. It takes a bit long to build up difficulty, and suffers from a distinct lack of variety and depth, but it’s adrenaline-pumping fun nonetheless. For less than the price of a cup of coffee in most cities, it’ll give arcade fans at least a couple hours of entertainment.