Gemini Strike is one of those games you sort of feel missed its calling in an arcade cabinet, because everything about this gorgeous free-to-play iOS sci-fi shooter from Armor Games brings back fond memories of my days spent losing the entirety of my allowance (and begging for more) to the machines in the convenience store and the laundromat. In it, you pilot a ship against a fleet of dandy space robots. And I don't mean that they're awesome, although they sort of are apart from the whole "genocide" thing, I mean that they're literally dandies, or at least lead by them, with waistcoats, roses, and bad poetry. Your job is to survive each level, taking down as many of the enemy's ships (and any huge bosses!) in the process, and controlling couldn't be simpler. Hold your finger on the screen, and your ship will fire automatically and follow your digit where'er it doth go. Double-tap to unleash any power-ups, and nab blue credits when you see them to spend on unlocking cargo containers of new equipment for your ship... though some cargo containers can only be unlocked with credits. You get one credit per day, and one credit for clearing a sector, as well as any more you pick up for completing successful bonus missions. If you fail a mission by, y'know, exploding, you can either spend a credit to keep playing, or choose to retreat and lose a heart, of which you have four that replenish at one per every fifteen minutes.
No bones about it, Gemini Strike is a gorgeous game whose frenetic action and combination of retro-styled ships with explosive visual effects perfectly captures the thrill of classic arcade games. Its simple control scheme makes it easy to pick up, and the ability to customise your ship with different equipment to suit your play-style and compensate for your weaknesses is a great touch. Each item you can sock into your ship has a different effect in addition to typically boosting your stats a bit, so you can find cargo that deploys shields when your health is low, or shoots out missiles every few seconds, or even restores your health. The biggest problem for Gemini Strike, however, might be the grinding to afford new cargo and upgrade what you've got, and the fact that you're almost always going to get better equipment from the credit-only cargo boxes. Credits are doled out very slowly unless you pay for them, and if you do pay for them, their cost feels inordinately expensive for how many you receive versus how many you need. It really feels like it needed a one-time purchase option that would unlock everything, because Gemini Strike is a game I would have happily thrown top app store cost at rather than wait on timers.
Initially, you'll probably find yourself dying a lot until you get some decent equipment and get it upgraded. Gemini Strike very much subscribes to the bullet-double-hockeysticks side of the shooter genre, and you'll need to fly fast and accurate to evade all types hazards like mines and asteroids, and different kinds of enemy projectiles, like homing missiles or electric blasts that temporarily stun you. Levels are short and brutally quick, and even shake things up a bit by sometimes stripping your weapons and forcing you to fly through blockades or blink-and-you're-toast minefields. Though the bosses all feel a little samey in a way that had me longing for big unpredictable crazy space beasts a la Gradius III, the game's sense of humour and storyline is a great touch that adds a lot of personality. Though the timers and credits can be frustrating, Gemini Strike hits all the right notes to be a rock-solid arcade game well worth taking out for a spin and an explosion or three... thousand.