Australian developers Millipede Creative Development have finally, well, unleashed Bullistic Unleashed upon us, as the game hits the iTunes App Store today. A combination of a physics puzzler, pinball machine and gory comedy, there’s a lot to like in this cheap and cheerful app (AU $0.99 at launch, AU $1.99 regularly), although the action may be something of an acquired taste.
Bullistic Unleashed‘s entire premise basically revolves around causing as much destruction and bodily harm as possible, as you take control of an army of bulls invading a shopping mall. As mentioned in our preview, the game initially appears to have a very similar mechanic to Angry Birds, as you launch the bulls from a slingshot in a very similar fashion (although you are pulling the bulls back by their testicles). Part of the reason Angry Birds is so successful is due to its polish and addictive qualities, so forgive me if I mention it a few times in this review, as even if the two titles diverge in fairly significant ways, it is useful as a comparison. The actual slingshotting feels very similar between the two games, although Angry Birds does feel more accurate due to its more constricted focus on smaller levels.
You see, Bullistic Unleashed‘s levels are designed like mazes, and you’re usually given only a very limited supply of bulls. That means that you have to set off a chain reaction with your bull, finding an exact spot in the map to aim at which will not necessarily produce immediate destruction, but will help send your bulls flying through the stage. There are bumpers, firing barrels, elevators and launchers, all of which affect your bull’s speed and direction. Many a time one of my bulls had lost all inertia by the time they had slowly come to a halt next to an elevator, only for them to be sucked in and spat out from the next floor with the force of a cannonball. Understanding how the physics of these different objects work is essential to achieving a high score, and there is a bit of a learning curve involved. The overall impression is one of a giant pinball table, albeit in a much different form, and with balls that can take a lot longer to find targets.
Bullistic Unleashed feels like it should play at a fast and furious pace, but it can often feel quite slow, and as a result it wasn’t quite as addictive for me as I would have hoped. With Angry Birds, levels are small and to-the-point. If your bird misses, you know within seconds and can retry quickly. In Bullistic Unleashed, it can take a lot longer to see whether your results have born fruit. Bulls can be bounced around from one end of the map to the other, back and forth over and over, picking up speed every time they hit a bumper or other gimmick. I have actually gotten my bulls into a few infinite-loop situations, where they could conceivably have kept being bounced around, missing everything, forever. You can end a turn whenever you like by hitting a button on-screen (and retry with a couple of button presses), but you do find yourself waiting to see if your still-moving bull can salvage the situation and hit just one more object. This means that each turn can go on for quite a long time, which is where it became less addictive for me, although I can understand if others find this approach interesting.
You can only ‘pass’ a level by causing a certain amount of damage, measured by a meter on top of the screen. Even when the required amount is only set at around 50%, it can still seem awfully high on some levels, which leads to you desperately trying to break every single solitary object your bull can reach in the vain hope of reaching that magic number. There are also gold coins that can be found around each level, and collecting them will unlock different bull types, some of which make things easier. A flaming bull can drop down in mid-flight, sometimes even clipping through floors for a bit of a cheeky way to get around, and the ‘Chicago’ bulls (hah!) can send basketballs flying around with them to incur further damage. Street Fighter-esque bonus stages also appear, which give you a car and an infinite amount of bulls to destroy it with, bit-by-bit. These are fun and welcome breaks from the rest of the game.
The visual style of the game is cartoony and appealing, with the occasional blood and giblets being thrown around to satisfy the blood-thirsty, and cute still pictures passing for cutscenes. However, the main problem I have with the visual design links to the level design, and that is that a lot of levels can be very large. That means you have to zoom right out most of the time to be able to have any idea of where your bull will be heading and how you should be planning your shots, which leads to you losing all that cute detail, even on a retina display. I really, really wish this was a universal app with an HD version of this game available for iPad, as the bigger screen would straight away solve these niggles. The music and sound design is quite good, however, and the stretching sound as you pull the bulls back by their balls is particularly quite wince-worthy.
There are many good things about Bullistic Unleashed, and at its low price point, there’s more than enough reason to pick it up and try it for yourself. Certain parts of the game invite comparisons to the mighty Angry Birds, which yes, is a much more polished and (for me) addictive experience, but that doesn’t mean Bullistic Unleashed won’t appeal to you. If you can get your head around the physics at work in this game, and the tricks to each of the gimmicks found in the levels, it’s a blast inflicting wanton destruction and mayhem on the shopaholic crowds.