Death Ray Manta Fizzes Onto iOS, Smaller But Still A Cacophony Of Color

Death Ray Manta

Forged from a highly charged glitter-pulp by the hands of Rob Fearon and pulsating onto your small screens today should most definitely be the iOS version of crazy arena shmup Death Ray Manta (DRM). A game that I once described as “a rainbow fart.” “It’s a polymorphous color cluster. An effervescent, saccharine, gum-rotting sherbet dip that crackles in your mouth and turns your piss pink.” Apparently, that’s what it is. Or at least the PC version that I was describing there is, so what about having it on a less powerful machine, like an iPad? As you may expect, some of the glorious effects that are crammed into the game were lost in the making of the port, which was handled by Jeff Murray. But fear not, because DRM remains strong in its depiction of a disco-nebula, where a war of fireworks splashes its casualties about in an explosion of colors you forgot even existed.

DRM is an arena shmup in which you’re placed upon a highly colorful background and have a goal of destroying the 8-bit aliens dancing their way towards you in the foreground. Each level is really short considering that is your only goal and you’re a freely moving manta with lasers firing out of your head, though sometimes there are a few turrets to take out as well. I tend to leave them until last. As you progress steadily through the levels with your single life, you’ll need to dodge projectiles, the slow-moving space beings and the patterns of static objects that are scattered around and will destroy you on contact. Surprisingly, considering how much is happening on-screen, you can see what you dodge and shoot quite easily. It’s either a remarkable achievement for human comprehension or the design of the game itself, and I’m going to go for the latter.

Death Ray Manta

“Death Ray Manta is a game about blowing up stuff. All the stuff.”

Most of the time you’ll want to shoot any entrapments around you that restrict movement, and then continually shoot in the direction that feels the best while searching for the Space Tiffin. You can’t really miss it – it’s a huge colorful diamond that triples your fire power and allows you to annihilate everything that can feel the burn of your lasers. Collecting these also add to your score, as well as progressing through levels, each one giving you a point. When you eventually die, and you will, your score is tallied up and then placed at the top center of the screen on following plays, just so you know what you’re aiming to beat. Those attentive enough to see that will also notice the amusing references in the quirky text too. Each level does have a name, and like those Twitter games, is just a title of something, often a film, with one of the words replaced with “manta”. It’s pretty great. There’s also text along the bottom, which often distracts me with a giggle, but then the the colors stop erupting and the retro-trance boogey music kicks in and we’re off once again. There’s nothing complex about the game; it’s a simple score-chasing color-explosion happy good time, i.e. fun without the bullshit.

Texas Chainsaw Manta

Death Ray Manta

My initial gripe with the PC version were the keyboard controls; they’re so rigid as diagonal lines are vital, but can only be achieved by moving in a direction, rather than just turning on the spot. This is problematic considering how tight some of the levels get. Luckily, the twin-stick set-up which the game pretty much required was also supported via a gamepad, and it made a world of difference. The controls in the iOS version quite rightly follow the twin-stick method of control with two on-screen thumbsticks in each bottom corner, but at first I was completely at odds with them. The right thumbstick is used to shoot and turn, and that works flawlessly. So much so that I’ve coined the spinning on the spot the ‘Manta Swivel’. It’s badass and gives you time to fully appreciate the amount of effects and colors on the screen at one time. On the easier levels you can just use that to send a spiral of neon beams in all directions and complete it almost accidentally in about three seconds. That, of course, has been balanced out by the indestructible turrets that run along the walls of the arena and start off by shooting your starting point, thus forcing you to move the manta.

Death Ray Manta

“It’s glorious in rainbow-dashing color like barely any other game.”

The left thumbstick almost had me pissed off to start off with as it worked in a way that seemed contrary to what I was used to. If you want to stop moving, you don’t just keep your thumb still; you have to completely remove it from the screen; otherwise, it’s very likely that you’ll just head straight to death. Once I discovered this revelation, I was pleased and relieved to say the least, but there’s something still not quite right about that stick. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t respond quick enough, but to be honest, it’s hard to tell because in DRM you can barely comprehend what’s happening in front of your eyes, and that is, of course, a good thing in this case. Other times, I swear it just doesn’t respond to the smears of my thumb, and the enemies end up just rolling straight into me. I dunno; it’s weird, but something just seems off about it. And this only happened twice.

I will complement how flexible the controls are in that you can place your thumbs anywhere on the side of your device and the thumbstick will appear underneath; it just adapts to you. And don’t take my experience with the controls as meaning that the game is ultimately flawed in this department, because it’s not. The touchscreen just isn’t as responsive as a proper gamepad, and that’s nearly always the case with games that see ports such as this. I’d say that 90% of the time the controls feel natural and easy-to-use.

So to wrap things up and allow myself some more time with the game, I’d say the launch price of just one dollar is MORE than worth what you get with Death Ray Manta. It’s glorious in rainbow-dashing color like barely any other game. The controls are mostly great, and the average touchscreen player will probably fare much better with them than I anyway. And, well, just look at how crazy the game is – the visuals are enough to sell you on the game, surely? Go and have a better look at the game; go on.

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  • RobF

    Yeah, we made a *slight* bum of the sticks. Daft really but because of the way I play the game, I never hit upon any of the problems with them but we’ve worked out where it’s going wrong and we’re on that.

    Also, because the movement is digital, having visible sticks gives entirely the wrong impression because then you expect them to be analogue.

    Oh man, us and controls! HOWEVER, lesson learned.

    First fix due in the next day or so when Apple let it through fixes a couple of glitches (and hopefully the left stick firing problem too), we’re on a second one now but that’s going to take a few days to implement, test and get it right.

    Once that’s done though, we’ll be all shiny and hopefully can concentrate on more enjoyable updates.

    • Chris Priestman

      I’m sure it will all be fine :) And the game is very playable as is, you just get the odd hiccup. Admittedly, I’m very critical of controls anyway – even when they’re decent.