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14th November 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
The Western-themed arcade shooter is comprised of five stages, with each consisting of three phases. Shooting Gallery is the first of the three, where players use the stylus to tap on flip-up panels that directly relate to the appearance of up to six targets on the 3D Screen. In what I can only assume to be for players with slower reflexes or those who are hasty with their shots, each target is outlined with a white, red, or black line for easier recognition to identify hostages, bandits, and the leader, respectively. Using the Circle Pad and the A Button to shoot at targets in lieu of simply tapping panels on the Touch Screen puts you at a disadvantage, and this becomes all the more evident as you venture to new stages where the targets appear then disappear in a split second, and if you blink you'll miss out on the timing window entirely. Not only that, but it feels clumsy in its execution, to the point that I was reminded of previous console generations.
Not all the targets appear at the same time; the same goes for the ones that are left over. They'll usually vacate in a pattern, but unless you've played the level beforehand, you'll likely be caught off guard as they start to disappear seemingly at random before you have the chance to fire. It's not a big deal, though, because at the end of the day your primary goal is to look out for the villain who appears two or three times over the course of the ordered sequence, with a timing window that will require a quick hand. Again, if you haven't already clued in, this pretty much rules out continuing to use the Circle Pad or D-Pad as your method of control. Because it's so easy to miss this level-ending target, you may find yourself repeatedly getting Game Over, brought on by an elapsed time constraint. More importantly, though, this approach makes scores a somewhat negligible thing to aim for, since it's about concluding your session as quickly as possible rather than being an accurate marksman.
Saloon Shootout, the second segment, is similar to the first in that your goal is still to get a shot on the boss enemy who now hides in the crowd, but this time you control Johnny manually in an enclosed environment. As you move left and right with the Circle Pad, targets will come shooting out of a slot up ahead like notes in Guitar Hero, then stand upright waiting to be struck down. Racking up a string of hits will go towards a gauge on the bottom right of the 3D Screen that, when full, will grant you unlimited ammo for several seconds, thus eliminating the need to reload. On occasion, the targets will move around the space for a short while to make it a little more challenging, but it's not like this amplifies the fun factor at all -- I could only see that happening if they spontaneously started square dancing. It's straightforward and not at all complicated, even with the movement that sometimes goes on. In one instance, you can actually clear the level in one second just by mashing the A Button at the start, so while this activity is an expected inclusion for the source material, the natural inclination is that more could've been done with it.
Concluding each stage is Shoot 'Em All, an all-or-nothing duel against the boss bandit that sees the two of you on separate stallions, moving up and down to dodge each others' shots. You have the added obstacle of rocks and cacti along the road, but the conditions aren't greatly hazardous; just annoying when they stop you in your tracks. Here, the Touch Screen displays an overhead, simplified view of what's taking place on the above screen. And it's a good thing that that's the function the Touch Screen serves, because it's trickier than it should be to achieve a level of accuracy in your shots when your focus remains on the 3D Screen. Under such conditions, it's far more common for fired bullets to scrape the sides rather than puncture the center of your target. Compounding the situation further is the fact that the enemy's status can be unstable, which affects the hit detection and thus causes bullets to pass through at times. Finding a weakness to exploit is also tricky seeing as there seems to be no consistent pattern to their movements.
Keeping your eyes fixed on the Touch Screen will produce more results than the alternative, but there is one instance when this viewpoint fails to differentiate between bullets and bombs, forcing you to keep an eye on both screens to know when to get out of the explosion range in the case of the latter projectile. Once the boss' health is reduced to a point where only a sliver remains, you'll then have to press A repeatedly to swing your rope and then press X once the built-up charge reaches the designated marker the on-screen gauge. Rather than this capture sequence resulting in the troublemaker seeing a justly-dealt jail sentence, the game will skip that step entirely and (humorously?) send your captured foe straight into the active fireplace in the background as punishment. Not sure parents will be okay with an implied execution…
All three gameplay portions use a three-point star system tied to the time you complete tasks. At the beginning of the experience, only two stages will be available, but more will open up as you accumulate these stars. Where this becomes a cause for irritation is in the Catch 'Em All stages especially. Due to the inconsistencies you have to put up with, I found it quite frustrating to be off by one second from the three-star requirement. Doesn't mean it's impossible, though. After some trial and error, I was able to meet the conditions on all but one of the stages. But I won't lie: I originally thought they were a bit unreasonable at first; I reckon younger players will not only feel the same way, but vocalize their upset as well. Now, the reason why these stars even matter is because in order to unlock additional stages, you'll often have to get three (or two-and-a-half) stars on pretty much everything that's available at that present time. Yet, in the absence of these stars -- when all is said and done and you've captured all the accomplices and the big man himself -- you can fully expect to be hit with the question of "What now?" really fast, to which you won't be able to provide a positive answer to.
On a related note, it's become somewhat of a regular thing now for UFO Interactive to include achievements as if it were a necessary detail, which seems to me an acknowledgement in itself that they have to rely on these to keep people playing their games. It's not something I'd be proud of, but in fairness, I thought this did work to their benefit in the case of Samurai G. Here, though, the 18 achievements do not provide added motivation and actually feel like they were thrown in just for the sake of it. Honestly, if they hadn't been present, the game would've done just as well. The worst part is, I think they knew that they had to influence the unlock conditions in such a way that players would essentially have little choice but to exhaust what's available in order to move forward. In looking at the digital manual, I observed a screenshot of the Main Menu that showed the original star requirements for the three locked stages to be 12, 18 and 28. Evidently feeling that this would make the game too easy to whip through, these were bumped up to be, in the final version, 16, 25 and 34. Perhaps that's why they cited deceptive difficulty as being one of the game's highlights, but when you couple this observation with the design of some of the activities (i.e., the annoying parts), it takes on a different meaning to the idea of Hotshot being "deceptively challenging."
As far as how the game looks, the overall motif of Johnny being trapped inside an arcade machine is supported nicely with the minor transformations that occur to lead the player from one segment to the next. On a more individual basis, though, the animations don't always have a sleek quality to them and the 3D doesn't enhance any part of the game, but I suppose that's something that can be overlooked. What'll be harder to ignore is the rather silly save system, requiring you to save manually rather than this being done automatically during the loading screens.
I happen to think that when you put everything together, Johnny Hotshot is more successful concept-wise than Johnny Kung Fu was, but not by a great deal, nor is that a great compliment. What gets me to be even harder on the developers is the fact that they've described Hotshot as a game "unlike any other." Personally, I'm floored at the very suggestion because there's almost nothing unique about it whatsoever, and as I've said previously, playing this did remind me of other games I've played in the past. Even if we were to pretend that the game earned itself a victory in that department, its problems demonstrate that it's still not a very good game with little-to-no good ideas (either those of its own initiative or those borrowed).
To really finalize everything, there's nothing alluring about Johnny Hotshot. The only thing that actually works is purely from a mechanical standpoint in connection with the premise. By all other accounts, this is a really forgettable arcade shooter that features predictable situations, before-seen conditions and fails at trying to pass these off as original or even worthwhile ideas to be entertained by. I have a hard time seeing anyone playing this beyond what is necessary for standard completion, and when you add it all up, no positive conclusion could be fermented in support of what is actually a waste -- of money, and of an idea.
15/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Clumsy execution with predictable circumstances, not original though it claims to be, problems to be had with the design and setup
Presentation 6/10 - Transformation aspect supports the overall premise nicely, other areas are a bit of a mixed bag, 3D doesn't do much
Enjoyment 2/5 - Forgettable and not that fun, annoying and frustrating in places, can see younger players getting upset, really not much here
Extra Content 2/5 - Three mini-games across five stages, unlock system shows signs of forcing repeat play, achievements don't help the game
Equivalent to a score of 50% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System