Ah, the Fothergills. Owners of Strange Flavour and creators of Bushfire, one of the first OS X-compatible games I truly enjoyed playing, as well as Airburst, which is basically cotton candy for the brain. Now consorting with the Mac-friendly Freeverse, these folks somehow managed to restore my faith in Mac gaming back when it was at an all-time low, and I take pride in being (if I remember correctly) the first person to register a copy of Bushfire so long ago.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the Fothergills have been hard at work on a sequel to Airburst. Titled Airburst Extreme, this title promises to take everything that made Airburst great and make it bigger, faster, and more addictive than ever before. While many of you (including myself) may groan at the idea of yet another title with the word "extreme" in it, I think we can forgive the hackneyed term in light of the fact that Airburst Extreme does in fact present what appears to be a steroid-injected version of the original, which bodes ill for my virtually non-existent free time.
More of this, more of thatFor the shameful percentage of you that have no firsthand knowledge of Airburst, I suggest you download and try out the demo before proceeding any further. For those of you that would rather read my verbose prose, the game mechanics of AE are simple. Each player takes control of a character that sits on a globular platform known as a Floater. Surrounding these Floaters are rows upon rows of protective bubbles. Gameplay consists of wielding a paddle, capable of 360 degree movement around one's character, that is used to deflect a ball or balls around the playfield in an attempt to knock out the protective layers of opponents, with the final goal being to knock others out of play by popping the Floaters themselves.
What this doesn’t take into account are the various powerups and game types, which take the simple play mechanics and make each game reminiscent of a lemming on antifreeze. All of the powerups from the original are intact, including the Sticky Bats, Sudden Deaths, and dreaded Ickle Bats. Now added to the mix are a new set of powerups, dubbed Extreme Powerups, which can greatly tip the balance of power in a given game when activated. Extreme Damage causes a player’s bubbles to sprout buzzsaw-like teeth. Extreme Hide makes a player become virtually transparent. Extreme Shield, which causes me to laugh maniacally or curse profusely, depending on whether or not I'm the recipient, creates a seemingly impregnable shield around the lucky fool. These and more Extreme abilities can be activated when a power meter has been filled to its maximum capacity, which is currently done by making repeated contact between ball and paddle. Needless to say, the use of an Extreme Powerup can quickly tip the balance of a game, making it possible for an underdog to suddenly become the scariest player on the field.
In addition to the new powerups, the overall gameplay of AE just seems faster overall. Gone seem to be the days in the original Airburst when a group of good players could keep a game going for quite a while, as AE features a faster ball, faster paddle movement, and a sense of tweaked physics that can make a 4 player game end in as little as 30 seconds.
Game types have also seen some new additions. An all-new Story Mode is now available, and features cut scenes starring the quirky characters of Airburst as they compete in their galactic tournament of bubble-popping, solving mysteries and doing whatever it is shiny plastic alien-types tend to do when not trying to cause others to plummet to their doom. For those who enjoy taking on enemies significantly more powerful than themselves, Boss Fights are also part of the mix.
Once saving the known universe becomes passé, players can turn to the other included game types, including Death Match, Revolution, Asteroids, Dogs!, Castles, and about 8 other modes with even crazier names. The modes seem to range in terms of play from frantic to heart attack level, depending on your daily caffeine intake. My particular favorite at this point would be Pop, which causes the last player to get hit by a ball to continuously lose balloons until someone else gets hit. For those that consume amphetamines regularly, the aptly named Chaos mode enables all powerups to spawn on a given board, no small feat considering the number of powerups AE includes.
Interestingly enough, AE also includes a play by e-mail mode called Airmail. While I have yet to fathom its workings, it seems to involve a series of rooms and assigned codes that must be e-mailed in.