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Game Review

Big Bang Mini is one of those quirky little Nintendo DS games that's oh so hard to classify. Whether you label it a shoot-'em-up (that's shmup for you gaming slang lovers) or an action/shooter, you're bound to leave people imagining something quite different from what this handheld title actually offers.

What this straightforward game most brings to mind are vintage arcade button-mashers like Galaga or Centipede, games from the '80s that sent pixelated spaceships and multi-membered crawlers careening about the screen, dropping down on gamers and daring them to blast away with their cannons ... until screen space ran out.

Still, that's not exactly what Big Bang Mini is all about, either.

The enemies in Big Bang Mini's skies are much more exotic—ranging from fish skeletons and Chinese dragons to knife-chucking sharks and balloon-suspended pigs. And the potential firepower available to repel said beasties is equally varied.

Boom-ity-boom-boom-pow! Whiip-poppity-pop-pop-pop! Tsssst-ziiip-BOOM!

That's right. We're talking colorful, sparkly, 4th-of-July pyrotechnics.

This arcade throwback jumps right into the action sans backstory—no alien bloodletting saga needed to set the stage here. Just dive in and make your way through wave after wave of danger from above, with each squadron of invaders brandishing an ever-more-ambitious attack pattern. All told, Big Bang Mini features more than 80 different challenges to master and 10 bosses to vaporize while defending the skies over nine brilliantly rendered cartoon cities from around the world.

(Missile Command, anyone?)

As with most DS titles, there's not much button punching to be done because everything centers around the handheld system's touch-pad stylus. You move your craft around on the lower screen to keep it safe from all manner of falling bombs and debris. And then in a separate action you can flick upward from anywhere on the touch screen—like striking a wooden kitchen match—to launch defensive rockets skyward.

Foes whiz by on the upper screen (accompanied by catchy musical jingles), and players bombard them from all angles with armament galore. If the shots land true, the menacing meanie or cavorting clown explodes in a colorful spectacle and drops a twinkling star. When players gather enough stars, they move on to the next battle. Learning precision in the early rounds is advised, however, because exploding poppers that miss their target rain down even more sparks and debris that the gamer's vulnerable ship must avoid.

Along with continually ramping up the difficulty factor, new levels occasionally mix in unique dangers, such as excessively windy areas that can blow your shots off target or gooey blobs that block your view and prevent screen-flicking launches. But Big Bang Mini also tosses players a bone or two as well, in the form of new abilities that include homing rockets and temporary bounce-back shields.

In addition to that action in Arcade Mode, the game also packs several other fun enticements into its colorfully offbeat package. Mission Mode sends you back to some of the most challenging levels for another go, now with time restraints or a limited number of rockets. There's also a Versus Mode that lets you connect wirelessly and go head-to-head with a buddy who has his own DS. And the appropriately named Relax Mode lets you settle back and enjoy a digital sky full of flowering pinwheels without a single dangling skeleton or flying pig in sight.

Big Bang Mini offers those skilled with a DS stylus a chance to test their mettle in an entertaining, old-school, um, shmup, packaged with eye-popping, 21stcentury graphics. It's fun and easy enough to pick up and pass around at a party. Or a perfect way to while away time on a road trip.

If nothing else, you can unleash some sparkling whiz-zing-pops and a bunch of high-powered bim-bam-booms—all without violating a single fire code ... or spilling a single digital drop of alien blood.

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