NeoDefender 2 tends to be less fun than it’s 30 year old inspiration

Neo Defender 2 sells itself as an Asteroids style retro shooter, and it definitely carries some of those similarities. The game also introduces a few changes and incorporates some elements that seem to make the game sometimes less fun than that 30 year old original, and other times downright unplayable.

Neo Defender 2 is played with a top down perspective, giving you a good view of the battlefield. Your ship is placed at the center of the screen and is assaulted on all sides by enemies. Using multi-touch, you’ll your tap and drag your fingers around the screen to shoot in multiple directions at once to take them all down. In between levels you’ll be able to heal up or upgrade weaponry to power up your ship, making the enemies a little easier to deal with.

NeoDefender 2

While I found the graphics to be sharp and vibrant, I was a little less than enthused with the enemies in the game. Enemy might be a strong word – what’s attacking you are no more than colored shapes. Circles, squares, etc fly at your ship and break apart into smaller shapes. It’s a little abstract and they all act pretty similarly, so it pales when compared to something like Geometry Wars that uses the different shapes to denote the different behaviors of the enemies. The enemy craft get a little more detailed in later levels, but it’s not enough to be compelling.

This issue pales in comparison to the actual gameplay mechanic, which at times challenged me to not throw my iPhone into the nearest wall. Your ship is dead center and enemies work their way in from the edges of the screen, so as soon as you touch the screen you are blocking those enemies with your fingers and palms. At best you only cover the thing you’re shooting, which leaves you with no knowledge of whether or not it’s been killed since it’s directly underneath your finger. At worst, well…. it’s worse.

You can shoot in multiple directions at once, so the few times I had to shoot towards the top of the screen my palm covered half the screen! I ended up in a situation where I was ducking my head and holding the device in such weird ways that I almost dropped it numerous times. That’s when the real frustration set in.

NeoDefender 2

I decided to try it again with a new approach; laying my iPhone down on my desk so I could hunt and peck with only fingers to get my palms out of the way. This definitely allowed me to block less of the screen while playing, but it still wasn’t great. I can imagine it would be a bit easier on an iPad, and while there’s a separate version of NeoDefender 2 available for iPad owners, it does little to address the problems here.

The game does offer an alternate auto-fire/tilt scheme, though it’s not easily found (I actually had to google it to figure it out after I was told it was in there). While this eliminates the visibility issues, you’ll lose the multi-directional fire capabilities in trade, as the ship fires in the direction you’re pointing. It’s an improvement over the regular control scheme, but I wouldn’t say it’s good.

I’m usually pretty hard on virtual thumbsticks (though I love them when done right like in Wispin) but at the very minimum they keep your hands at the bottom of the screen and out of the way. Neo Defender 2 would benefit from such an option in my opinion.

Is it possible my hands are too big or my dexterity too low to properly play the game? Sure. But I’ve played a ton of iOS games and have never had issues like I had here, so it’s doubtful. I’m not saying it would be impossible to enjoy NeoDefender 2, but the controls here are too flawed and frustrating to think that anyone would consider this one a keeper.