Hardly original but with some unique ideas, Mutant Storm Reloaded is the Xbox Live Arcade's fifth dual analog shooter. That's a bit much for anyone, though Mutant Storm is slightly distinct with its tighter gameplay and focus on clearing single rooms with their own challenges. It's definitely more Smash TV than Geometry Wars.
Once into a room in either the Adventure or Tally mode, it's up to the player to clear it of all enemies using a variety of power-ups or bombs. Every nine stages (out of 89), you'll re-supply a life and a bomb. There's little in the way of physics or extra special effects. The player's ship controls perfectly, without any added movement. Stopping stops the ship, not causing it to float around like in Geometry Wars.
Weapons are deadly, and though sometimes rare, provide a great release and shot of adrenaline. It's something Mutant Storm needs desperately. There isn't a difficulty curve in place. For the most part, aside from a few notable stages, levels stay at a pretty standard difficulty when played on the same belt level.
Belts are the games attempt to stand out. Each one represents an increase in difficulty, yet there's no explanation as to how you earn an advancement. It's obvious that staying alive helps the players cause. The problem is that without actually knowing what increases these belt levels, it's impossible to know what you're striving for, or even if you want to. It's an admirable attempt to keep the game on a difficulty suitable to the player, but without an explanation, it's a lost cause.
That's all part of the Adventure mode. Next is the oddly titled Tally where you'll take on each stage on whatever difficulty you wish to try and earn high scores. The set up is awful, sending the player completely back to the main menu after each is beaten (or not). Logic says that there should be a prompt to ask if the player simply wants to try the next level, or at least put them back in the stage selection menu. That's not what happens here, creating a more disjointed experience than the Adventure.
Multi-player is also unexplained. Two players can take on either mode together, yet the scoring indicators at the end of the stage indicate you're competing with each other. Technically it's competitive in that way (though not over Xbox Live). It's a hard call for the player knowing that if the other player perishes, they're going to have trouble completing the level. However, it also increases their chances of taking a massive lead. Mutant Storm would have been better off focusing on one aspect.
From a sheer gameplay standpoint, it may not be as pretty, but the basic shooting action here is definitely more enjoyable than Geometry Wars. It's easier to quickly grasp and control, and it feels like it's in more familiar territory. It's outside of that, complete with confusion, sloppy multi-player, short length, and lack of focus, where Mutant Storm inexcusably fails miserably.
(*** out of *****)