In the course of exploring shmups on the iPad, iFighter 2 is a game I found myself playing mostly because it was free. It seemed like one of those “how bad can it be?” games that is going to answer the question exactly as I expected, at which point I would promptly uninstall it and go play something worth the 99 cents it cost.
But because iFighter 2 is free, it has a money sink into which you can pour real world money. But unlike most free games into which you can pour real world money, there’s really no need to pour money into iFighter 2. If you’re content to play through the levels several times over — also called “trying to get a better score” and a cornerstone of any effective shmup — then iFighter 2 will inevitably dump its buyables into your lap. The F4F, then the P-38, then the B-25, with different sets of wingmen that fire in various directions. Later you can also buy powerups, which is probably where the iFighter 2 whales dump their cash and definitely where the pursuit of a high score loses any allure. In other words, the more you play, the better the stuff you get, and the higher your score. You’re basically buying your way or grinding your way to a higher score with bigger better planes, skill be damned.
This is both its strength and weakness. If you play shmups because you like to wrestle with cool scoring systems, there’s not much here for you. But if you play shmups for the mindlessness of dodging bullets and watching things blow up, this is a viable choice: crisp, lively, loud, busy, obligingly World War II. And if you want a shmup based on unlocking stuff so you’ll do better next time by no virtue of whether you’ve actually gotten better at the game, iFighter 2 is the shmup to beat.