Thank You, Space Miner.

Boy, do I love Space Miner. If you haven’t bought it yet, you can read reviews and a blog post by their team to try to help you make up your mind on whether you should buy it.

Or, instead, you could just spend two bucks on it, and download what will no doubt be remembered as one of the best games ever for the iPhone.

Then you can see what I see: that this provides a blueprint for future developers to take advantage of. This isn’t just a refresh of Asteroids. It’s basically taking Asteroids and transforming it into Star Control II “Lite” before your very eyes.

You start the game with a clunker ship, a tiny gun, and limited engines. For all intents and purposes, this is the original Asteroids with refreshed graphics that people are used to. This is where a lot of current developers might stop – give an old game a new look, and toss it on the store. Instead, upgrades to the original concept hit you in a series of well-placed attacks on your jaded gamer shell, until it’s all been torn away and you’re forced to admit that this is way, way cooler than even your nostalgic bygone-day memories of Asteroids.

Yes, my friends, this is how you polish a merely fun game concept into something magnificent. The core mechanic is still there, but aided by decades of processing power improvements, the game goes from asteroid hunting with a pea shooter into something more akin to Rambo’s giant machine gun yelling sprees, except you’re fighting giant asteroids and evil robot miners with uber-powerful weapons and turrets. The way that each element is layered on as you progress further feels natural, too. There’s so much there that the leveling-up makes the game feel fresh even hours into it, a characteristic usually reserved for pure RPGs or MMOs.

The addition of the Uncle Jeb storyline fits perfectly, and allows them to frame the game as something with an end. There’s also a finite amount of asteroids in the universe, giving the grind an end point to which you can aspire. Since there’s a story arc, it makes the grinding easier to get through, because even though the grinding’s fun, I can’t imagine going through so much senseless destruction of asteroids without the end of the story to look forward to.

All that story is aided by well-rendered characters and a fantastic soundtrack. You’d be hard pressed to find an area where this game cuts corners. Perhaps it’s only possible to make a game like this because of the simplicity at the core. Although I’m sure it cost a lot more than most iPhone games to make, it does seem like this kind of approach reaps huge dividends, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see more small studios take this approach to spice up casual games into something more.