JoyJoy: A Delightful Dual-Stick Shooter
While Radiangames is known for a wide variety of games, the developer is perhaps best-known for its twin-stick shooters. JoyJoy was the first of the bunch, and perhaps the most straightforward. There are no mazes to navigate, no unusual gimmicks, and no experience points or permanent level-ups. It’s a pure shoot-em-up in the manner of such classics as Robotron 2084 and Geometry Wars, and in that respect it’s an absolute success.
It’s not without its twists, however. The first comes in the weapon system. You have access to several different weapons that you can switch through on the fly. Certain weapons are more effective against particular types of enemies, and they all have situational uses that ensure you’ll be swapping frequently. Each player will likely find one weapon they like to use as a trusty stand-by, but it’s only through effective use of the entire arsenal that you’ll get the best results.
The next interesting quirk comes in the form of the Ultra Attack. By defeating enemies and collecting the stars they leave behind, you’ll fill up your Ultra Meter. Provided you have enough of the Ultra Meter filled, you can unleash a souped-up attack that varies depending on the weapon you’re currently using. The catch is that you are unable to move while using this attack. You have to make judicious use of this ability, letting fly to manage crowds before beating a hasty retreat before you end up boxed in with no remaining Ultra Meter energy to save you.
Finally, there’s the power-up system. Certain enemies will leave behind power-ups when they’re defeated. You can never be sure exactly what you’ll get until the item drops, but it’s always something useful. There are upgrades for your weapons, speed upgrades, added hit points, armor repairs, and even a couple of items that will give you some temporary support in the form of a turret that will blast nearby foes or a gravity well that will suck your enemies in. These power-ups add a bit of spice to the game, as you’ll likely want to adjust your strategy depending on which ones drop. A couple of upgrades to a particular weapon may see you playing with offensive abilities you usually ignore.
These strategic options and slightly random elements contrast nicely with some of the game’s more reliable parameters. The arena, for example, is always the same shape from wave to wave. While the exact arrangements of the enemies in waves are randomized to an extent, the types of enemies and overall numbers tend to be consistent when replaying those waves. All of this blends together to create a game that is both tense and surprisingly easy to get into the groove with. JoyJoy is challenging, but it’s also relaxing in its own way.
Part of its smooth difficulty slope comes from the options afforded to the player in that regard. There are seven different difficulty settings to choose from, with the easiest being a rather slow-paced romp good for those moments where you just need to shoot something and the hardest being a genuine test for even the most seasoned of players. Indeed, the higher difficulty settings are locked until you can reach a certain point on the easier settings. This wide array of options means players of all skill levels can find something that fits them.
The main Waves Mode sees you playing through discrete waves of foes with the occasional boss battle thrown in to keep you on your toes. The various random elements and multiple difficulty settings make this mode the one to come back to, and you’ll likely be spending most of your time here. If you need a diversion, the Challenges Mode tasks you with surviving six different set-ups and reaching the highest score possible while doing so. It’s nice for mixing things up here and there.
Whichever mode you choose to play, JoyJoy’s strength is in how good it feels to play. The controls are spot-on, the feel of the different weapons is good, and the variety of enemies and situations are compelling. There’s a great risk-reward system in play in this game. Hugging the walls to stay safe versus venturing out to collect stars and power-ups. Using your Ultra Attack to take out crowds versus keeping your mobility in order to dodge. Sticking with a weapon you’re familiar with versus finding one that may help out more with your current woes. It’s this push and pull that makes JoyJoy such a… well, such a joy to play.