Tuesday, March 24, 2015

JoyJoy (Xbox Live)

Checkpoints OFF
5 Difficulty levels
24 Stages
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by radiangames
Published by radiangames in 2010

For a long while after I established contact with the high def generation of video games with the PS3 and the Xbox 360, multidirectional twin stick shooters were sort of an enigma to me. As with most gamers getting a taste of that generation, one of the first examples of this particular style I was exposed to was Geometry Wars - Retro Evolved. Flashing particles and bright fuss aside, it wasn’t really that engaging to me, unlike some very good examples such as Super Stardust HD and Score Rush, which I came to know and play much later. That’s when I also came in contact with JoyJoy, the first little gem produced by radiangames, honestly one of the best independent developers to have ever graced the XBLIG platform.

Since then I only had sparse play sessions of JoyJoy, generally in between the heaviest practice spells of other 360 shooters. I loved the aesthetics and the way particles explode and blend into each other in a soft, almost gentle kind of way. However, at the same time I was amazed at how terrible I performed in it, or in any confined arena shooter for that matter. Beating JoyJoy’s Campaign mode is, in fact, a very important milestone for me because it’s also the first confined multidirectional shooter I beat in my entire life. What triggered my desire to finally go for the clear was an interview by developer Luke Schneider where he suggests using two particular weapons as a hint to perform better in his game.

And you know what? It worked! I’m here writing about the game after all, am I not? The main game mode in JoyJoy is called Campaign and comprises 24 waves of increasingly harder swarms of surreal ships and saucers. Twin stick controls use only the analog pads, but the player also needs to hone the ability to employ the shoulder buttons (LB, RB) to select the desired weapon, as well as any of the trigger buttons (LT, RT) to charge this weapon for greater destructive blasts. It’s all very intuitive and dynamic, with non-stop action amidst a spectacle of soft particles flying everywhere. Weapon types are displayed below the ship only when you are cycling through them with the shoulder buttons, which helps keep the screen cleaner, reduces the need for a big HUD and allows for more room to focus on the relentless action.

All power of the hunter weapon against the first boss

All items are released by a larger round enemy and float in place until you take them, one or two per wave. Vulcan is the default weapon as the game starts, but soon you’ll also be equipped with hunter, lancer, spread, impulse and reflex. Weapon efficiency varies according to their function, their icons appear twice more for the “pro” and “ultimate” upgrades and they’re all capable of blocking enemy firepower to some extent. Bearing in mind that charging is of essential importance to survival and crowd control, some weapons are definitely better suited to specific enemies. Hunter and reflex can be highly amusing when you need to take care of flocks of weaker foes, but for sheer brute force it’s always best to go with lancer and impulse. I rarely used vulcan, but it’s certainly the best weapon to deal with the boss in the 16th wave.

Each stage begins with a preset number of lives, shown all the time on the left side of the ship and starting from three in the very first wave. Later on two items for armor upgrade add two extra lives to the starting three, a very welcome aid for the harder levels. Now for the reason why JoyJoy is a very friendly game for beginners in the confined twin stick style of shooting: no matter how many lives you have left when a stage is completed, you’ll always start the next one with a full life stock. Of course preserving lives is better for the player in the long run, since the less lives you lose the higher is the bonus you get: a no-miss equals 10.000 points, one life lost means 5.000 points, two lives lost gives 2.500 points and for more misses you get nothing. Other than that, both speedy completion and difficulty play healthy parts in the bonus as well. Regarding the latter, each wave won on Normal corresponds to 2.500 points, whereas on Hard/Expert players collect 10.000/20.000 points respectively. There are also two extra hard difficulties named Lightning (weaker + more numerous enemies) and Armored (stronger + less numerous enemies).

Other types of items that will appear in any run are two speed-ups (quicker movement), two charge enhancers (faster charging) and, if you’re lucky, armor repairs (completely refills the life count). Lastly, by killing successive enemies the “star meter” will expand to both sides from the lower center of the screen. When this gauge gets full it’s replaced by a STAR POWER message and two types of special items are created alternately at a random position in the playing field: “burst” works as a fountain of extra firepower, whereas “vortex” acts as a drain that attracts all enemies in its vicinity. The stars in the background are just for show, merely adding a nice visual flare to the game.

If you’re not in the mood for the 20 minutes of a full credit in Campaign mode you can always go for one of the quick romps of Challenge mode. There are six challenges, each lasting 4 minutes only and emphasizing different aspects of the basic gameplay. You can choose to face weaker or tougher swarmer/shooter enemies or a mix of both, as well as a boss rush, most of them with limitations on weaponry. Each of these game modes has a specific high score table, but unfortunately there are no distinction between multiple difficulties in Campaign mode – which is, in fact, one of the only real criticisms I can make on this otherwise lovely shooter. The other one is related to the soundtrack. It’s fine and fits the game perfectly, but I’m one of those people who’ll always prefer more energetic music in a title like this.

Having multi-colored twin stick fun
(courtesy of YouTube user Splazer Productions)

All game modes can be affected by the so-called “modifiers”, a fancy new name for highly empowering dip-switches. By switching these on you can get quick charge, rapid fire, hyper speed, awesome damage, super star power (get bursts and vortexes faster) and invulnerability. Again, high score tracking makes no distinction of when you have or haven’t activated modifiers in you runs, so keep an eye out for those if you want to have clean high score tables. Naturally the game can be played in co-op, and whenever you're playing in the profile under which it was downloaded vibration is turned on by default (choose a different profile to get rid of it).

JoyJoy’s Campaign mode is of the self-learning kind. Hints are dropped on screen as you reach certain key points in the game, but it takes only something like five waves to get totally used to the gameplay. In a shooter like this more important than dodging bullets or enemies is the idea of avoiding them, and soon I devised an approach that consisted in circling movements coupled with what I like to call “straight tunneling” against the most powerful enemies, mainly the ones that shoot. And the safest way to accomplish that is by using the lancer weapon (hint!). Bosses await at every eighth level, and every now and then you'll face a swarming wave where a huge amount of saucers is generated. Practicing later waves is made possible by choosing key stages directly at the start screen if you manage to reach them in a normal run.

JoyJoy is incredibly fun and highly addictive just like Crossfire, the next title in the XBLIG development timeline from radiangames. Since its original release JoyJoy has been ported to other platforms I don’t really care about, such as iPhone/iPad, Google Play, Amazon and Windows Phone 8. If you’re into any of those give the game a look, it’s totally worth it.

Here are my highest 1CC scores in Campaign mode, Normal difficulty (no modifiers, of course):


  1. This was one of the first indie games I bought on Xbox Live, and it remains my favorite to this day. What a fantastic little gem!

    1. Indeed!
      After trying it it's easy to understand why it still stands as people's favorite.