Have you ever played a game where you took one look at it and thought, I could do better than that? In Sketch Nation Shooter, a wonderful new iPhone game from Engineous Games, you’ll get that chance. While there is a fully-playable game in here too, the real beauty of Sketch Nation Shooter is in its level editor, which allows you to use absolutely any image – from photos to sketches to simple stick drawings on paper – to make your own levels to play and share with friends.

Sketch Nation Shooter

The gameplay itself is a little but shallow, but considering the amount of customization the game engine would have to account for, it’s still impressive. Each level features enemies that move in patterns you’ve seen in other shooting games, like rows of them or coming in at a 45-degree angle. Your ship (as long as the designers said so) has a life bar, so it’s not necessarily one-hit death. Power-ups include a shield, spreader gun and missles as well as one-ups and point bonuses. If it is an advanced level, a boss will take up one half of the screen, with a life bar of its own. Once the game scrolls with a boss to a certain point, the boss repels you back a certain distance in the level to maintain a loop while you fight it. Win the level, and you’re graded by percentage of enemies defeated, number of lives lost, number of hits taken and all the points you accumulated in the level.

The game comes with five developer-designed levels, and then you start downloading the rest – or making your own.

To begin designing, you can choose either Simple or Advanced editing. Simple required you to make a vehicle (and this term is used very loosely) for the player to control, and at least one enemy. Players and enemies can be selected from the game’s library, extracted from a photo in your phone’s library, but the best is being able to draw your own.

You have to make sure that the image has a solid edge and on a white background, but those are your only restrictions. The images can be as colorful and weird as you want. After drawing your ship, you must set it up under as bright a light as possible (if there isn’t enough light, Sketch Nation Shooter won’t see the image, so be sure it’s well lit to avoid frustration) and snap a picture. A few seconds later, your creation will appear onscreen. You can rotate, scale and flip your ship however you want. Once you’re happy, you can do the same thing with enemy ships. Then, just hit Play and you’ll get to try your creation!

If you’re more ambitious, the Advanced Mode allows you to draw large obstacles or even lay out a level. You can design as many as five different enemies as well as one large final boss for the stage. Other options include enemy strength, firing patterns, enemy patters, the movement of bonus and power-up icons… the list truly does go on.

Once you’re happy with the level, you can save it to your phone or upload it to Engineous Games’ servers to download and share with others. Don’t worry about any unsavory content, though; the designers have stated that each level is personally-examined to ensure there is nothing obscene. At time of review, there was over 300 user-designed levels, some of which are very colorful and elaborate (check out The Adventures of Mr. Mosquito for a great example!).

Sketch Nation Shooter

While the majority of Sketch Nation Shooter is really great, there is a very big downside to it. Though not likely to affect many Gamezebo users, Sketch Nation Shooter requires you to have a Facebook account, and log into it in order to download, share and create levels. Why this is a requirement is unclear, but for gamers who are steadfastly refusing to sign up for a Facebook account – and they are out there – Sketch Nation Shooter ends up being a very shallow experience. Also, it’s important to note that, due to a lack of a camera, iPod Touch users will have a more awkward experience, having to import photos of sketches they make into their photo libraries via their computers first.

But for a fun, creative title – particularly a budget one! – Sketch Nation Shooter is a great game creator, and a fun way to make something deeply personal and absurdly silly. Certainly some enterprising game creators will be making messages with their five enemies (“Will” “you” “marry” “me” ‘?” leaps to mind), while others will amaze with how much they are able to create using just a pad of paper and their imagination. Even if you aren’t fans of side-scrolling shooters you still owe it to yourself to download Sketch Nation Shooter just to expand your creativity. You’ll see just how hard (or easy!) making a game can be.