Fleet of One review: retro fun with tight controls

Fleet of one

When I play good mobile games like Fleet of One (FOO), available for now on iTunes for US$1.99, something happens to me. It’s like, this black pit I call a heart starts to beat again.

Gaming is personal and everything we play either hits an emotional chord in us, or makes us back off in disgust. There’s no middle-ground, there’s no “sure, I’ll just play this to waste some time”.

No, you’d just be fooling yourself. We play games to expand our vast library of mental fun that’s been built up over the years and decades. We play looking for that perfect experience, that one moment inside a game that defines it as a must-have title. FOO, developed by South African-based Polymorph Studios is that game, filled with perfect moments from start to finish. One problem though, it’s bastard hard.

Guitar Hero

I don’t care about graphics or sound, I care about gameplay and FOO  has it in spades. If you’ve played any bottom-down space shooter ever (think Space Invaders) then you’ll instantly familiar with FOO’s  concept. A ship, outfitted with five laser cannons has to defend itself from wave after wave of alien vessels. You tap a cannon to fire, and swipe up to shield it from harm. These controls form the basis of the game. Outside of a hyper-powered blaster that’s charged care of energy pods that enemies are frequently dropping for some reason, that’s all FOO  offers in terms of gameplay.

Now, none of that would matter if the controls weren’t absolutely spot-on, and they are. I’ve played hundreds of shooters such as Gradius, F-Type, Galaxian and Dodonpachi (look it up) and FOO cribs nicely from all of them. Yes, it’s not the most original shooter in the world but it plays like the bomb, yo. Kind of like a shooter version of Guitar Hero. Let me explain.

There are five cannons, like five chords on the virtual neck of the guitar. As the alien menace descends, you’ll rhythmically tap each cannon (or hold for auto-fire) to destroy each ship. Every enemy follows a pattern that after enough time, you’ll learn and adapt to. It so closely follows a strict pattern that muscle-memory sinks in and the game becomes one unbroken string of harmonious shooting. Kind of like in Dots, minus the shooting. Shoot, shield, advance. It works.

Pixel Perfect

So the gameplay is just right. How’s the bloody graphics then, hey? FOO‘s retro-styled looks suit the game to a tee. Obviously, there’s not much to look at in space, what with most planets being light-years away from each other. Also, there’s no light in the deepest regions of the galaxy so it’s pitch-black most of the time. So what FOO does is make itself look and sound as much as a Super Nintendo game as possible.

Nothing looks that menacing. The aliens are actually pretty cute, like freaky vegetables and microbes with engines attached to them. It all works well of course, with the real terrors of the game coming from the insane difficulty level. Not even the sound, which was scored fantastically by chiptune master Card on Spokes, helps to soothe this nineties style-pain.


I died plenty in FOO. I haven’t even managed to reach that mythical point where everything is fine and it all clicks together. It happened about three times for me, and then none at all during the first boss encounter (there are three). I thought I was great at games but I’m not. FOO beat me down.

It’s still a great game though, and for those who thought that Dark Souls was a pleasant experience, they’re going to love FOO. But then again, it’s all about pattern recognition and the ADHD youth out there will lap this up like candied water. The rest of us oldies will have to suffer our arthritic fingers as we battle to make it past stage one.  There are fifteen stages in total, with a boss fight at the end. There’s also two difficulties: Normal and Extreme. Normal is bad enough, I’d wager that extreme would crack the display on my phone. Because I’d throw my phone. Hard. Into a wall. Out of frustration.

FOA icon

Verdict: Fleet of one looks and sounds great, has pinpoint controls and plays like a bat out of hell. It’s a supremely difficult game though, but don’t let that put you off from downloading it. If you can master the controls, you’ll tame enemies and have a blast.

Score: 8/10

Download Fleet of One from iTunes for US$1.99 (R20). I reviewed the final beta of FOO for Android, which is coming real soon.

Steven Norris: grumpy curmudgeon


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