Wii Fanboy Review: Protothea

The Wii is the best system in history for scrolling shooters, thanks to the Virtual Console. While companies like Treasure and Cave have developed new subgenres of the shmup, the basics of classic shooting gameplay haven't changed much, and a good shooter is still as enjoyable now as it was when games like Gradius and Blazing Lazers were new. Chances are nobody but the most devoted shmuppers has mastered every available shooter on the system -- or even all of the really good ones. For most gamers, there are at least five excellent shooters available on the VC that are completely unfamiliar.

The preponderance of excellent shooters means that there's really no reason for anyone to buy a mediocre one -- especially not when it costs more than every other shmup on the system. There is even less reason to buy Protöthea. If you're thinking about putting ten bucks into this, stop and go buy Blazing Lazers or Lords of Thunder instead.

Protöthea is a remake of a top-down shooter originally released for the PC in 2005 by Digital Builders and Mazes of Fate developer Sabarasa Entertainment. Its central gimmick is 360-degree aiming, instead of the usual straight-up fire found in vertical shooters. The PC version used WASD to move and a cursor controlled by the mouse to aim; the Wii version translates these controls to the Nunchuk and the Wii Remote pointer, much like Geometry Wars: Galaxies or Heavenly Guardian. Unlike those two, Protöthea is a true scrolling shooter. It scrolls agonizingly slowly, but it scrolls.

The multidirectional fire means that, unlike most shooters, which at least attempt to put enemies near your line of fire, enemies can come from anywhere on the screen. The change in controls enabled Digital Builders to implement their most notable "innovation" -- dynamic AI. Traditional shooters are based on pattern memorization; enemies move in formations that you learn to navigate, and put bullet patterns on the screen that you must maneuver through. Protöthea's enemies always come directly at you, and fire shots as fast as yours. There are no real patterns other than the area of the stage in which a particular enemy appears. The opposing ships' movements are only predictable in that you can expect them to get right in your business all the time. Your ship is not terribly maneuverable, and is hindered more than usual by inertia, which means you'll be running into them a lot. And then bouncing into others. I'd almost prefer the traditional one-hit death to watching my life bar drain out due to unavoidable collisions.

Those "smart" enemies? They're smart enough to start shooting at you before they arrive on-screen. It's not an isolated, rare occurrence, either -- most of the game's challenge comes from the fact that the enemies are jerks and are happy to start firing on you before they even get to the screen. Halfway through the second level, a midboss starts firing high-speed, powerful lasers directly at you from a few screens away. They're fast enough (and, of course, they track you well enough) that you'll probably get hit and die even if you expect them, especially if you're busy with the endlessly-respawning ships already firing at you from off-screen. Challenge is an important component of the genre, but this is not how it's done. It's frustrating, unfair, and in no way fun.

When you decide to turn toward the unknown source of fire and blindly return fire, you have a selection of weapons, ranging from seemingly identical lasers (one is green, and one is blue!) to a flamethrower. All of the weapons share one bizarre feature: fire them continuously for too long, and they overheat. They overheat, forcing you to wait until they cool down. Have you ever played a shooter and wished you could shoot less? If so, Protöthea was made for you -- and its WiiWare availability ensures that you won't have to endanger the general population by leaving the house to get it.

The B button fires bombs at the ground, Xevious-style. This attack is mostly used on a bunch of stationary, rectangular tanks who tend to fire missiles at you while you're doing something more important. You have to make absolutely sure you've got the pointer squarely over a tank when you fire a bomb, or you'll miss and have to wait for the painfully slow projectile to reach the ground and make its tiny explosion before you can try again.

I get angrier the more I think about this game. After the first level, my impressions were that Protöthea was the most boring shooter ever -- that level throws a single enemy at you every few seconds, who pretty much just sits there and waits to die. However, the subsequent levels went from boring to irritating, thanks to the malevolent enemy AI and the wildly careening player ship. I was just going to dismiss it as a boring, unremarkable game, but it got worse. The pace didn't really pick up too much, but the few ships on the screen at a time managed to bother me enough. I began to think back longingly to when I was just bored.

There is nothing to recommend about Protöthea. The 3D graphics, and the levels rendered in those graphics, are bland and ugly, the music is literally forgettable (case in point: I have forgotten it), and the ship controls are imprecise. The game is pretty long by shooter standards (eight levels), but that's hardly a positive when it's eight levels of this. Why couldn't Protöthea have taken a page from Star Soldier R and ended after two minutes?

Final score: 2/10. It doesn't crash or anything, but it's completely pointless.

With the recent launch of WiiWare, we've been busy getting our time in with some of the titles available for download. Be sure to check out our reviews of Family Table Tennis, Toki Tori, Critter Round-Up, Dr. Mario, Defend Your Castle, Star Soldier R, Pop, LostWinds, and TV Show King, as well as our early impressions of My Life as a King and its review here. Keep up to date with WiiWare by checking out our WiiWare category.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.