"To lose a bullet is to lose a life, and to lose a life is to lose a bullet." This is apparently the slogan used by the developer, EnjoyUp Games, to describe this unusual shoot-em-up game. 99Bullets resembles a standard vertical space shooter but throws in some very interesting features that separates it from its many clones.
So what's the deal with the '99 bullets'? (And why is it spelled without a space between the words in the title? I haven't figured that one out...). Well, the idea is that your little hero dude, V-99, only has 99 bullets to use in each level, and on top of that, those 99 bullets also represent his life gauge. If you get hit by an enemy or enemy fire, you lose some of your energy, i.e. your bullets, and if you run out of bullets and take one last hit, you finally die.
Unlike other space shooters, you don't control a ship but rather the hero V-99 himself as he floats about the screen. He's a little bit blocky, chunky, and perhaps a bit generic looking… yeah, not much style on this guy. But hey, he's pretty versatile: he can shoot his bullets in any of the four cardinal directions (up, down, left, right, using the four face buttons), and he can move anywhere within the top and bottom screens. No problems with the controls here; they nailed the tight controls and good hit detection in this one.
Using both the top and bottom DS screens to create a large vertical view of the play area is both thrilling and challenging as you have to focus on everything happening all at once. However, a problem with this expanded field of view is the dreaded 'dead zone' that physically exists in the gap between the two screens on your handheld system. This game treats the gap as if it weren't there, which means enemies and obstacles suddenly appear as they transition between the two areas. This creates problems correctly judging distance when you are playing close to the middle of the battlefield, which can happen more often than not.
The game reminds me of the BIT.TRIP series in several ways, and I wouldn't be surprised if the developer weren't at least a little bit inspired by Gaijin Games' series. This game goes for the 'retro' look and sound of an older generation of video games. In this case, it seems the 16-bit or early 32-bit era is represented. Backgrounds are polygonal and have a Playstation 1 (or even simple N64) 3D quality to them as the screens scroll automatically from bottom to the top. The music is good and fits the game's themes, with some of it reminding me of music used in great Super Nintendo action games.
Getting back to the core concept of the game, it's all about the high score and finding a balance between playing aggressively and conserving your ammo. The heart of the game is the Arcade mode. After selecting between Easy, Normal, and Hard, you fight your way through 12 levels, where every third level is simply a boss fight. The levels are incredibly short and only last about 1 minute each. I started on Normal the first time and made it around stage 9 before dying.
In order to clear a level, you can't simply survive until the end. If that were the case, you could simply avoid enemy fire to prevent using up ammo. Instead, you must meet a minimum score by the end of the level or else you fail. What this entails is that you have to ensure, to the best of your ability, that every one of your shots counts and that you don't lose your precious, limited, ammo by getting hit by enemies. Since there's only a limited number of enemies in each level, you're forced to create the best possible path of killing enemies with well-placed shots and missing as little as possible. On top of that, you'll get awarded bonus points for various feats such as finishing the level alive (it's possible to die and still clear a level if you met the score objective), points for every bullet remaining, and so on.
As short as this game is, it has great replay value as a high score game, but this is severely hampered by the fact there's no score sharing at all, neither locally or online. You can always try to improve your own score, but otherwise there's little reason to play this game for more than a couple of hours or so. The game is definitely challenging for those who dare to attempt the Hard difficulty, so that alone means you'll want to play even longer and get better at the game.
Part of the challenge, and a source of frustration, is that if you die at any point in the 12-level Arcade Mode, it's Game Over, and you have to start at the beginning. However, this isn't too big of an issue considering how short the levels are. In addition, you are allowed to replay any individual stage as much as you want from a selection in the main menu (provided you've made it to that level in Arcade mode).
The game overall has some fun and interesting play mechanics, with the main problem being there simply isn't much content overall. For its price though, I still enjoyed checking out this different take on the genre and hope to see the concept expanded further in a future sequel.
Oh yeah! I totally knew what those games had in common! not really, haha
Yeah, games with shared resources are an interesting bunch, right? Whether it's depleting your life meter in F-Zero X to get the speed boost you need, or sacrificing your health to bust out a special attack in Turtles in Time, these kinds of games force you to be a little more cautious with your choices, to various degrees. Balance it out, you know?