Every Saturday here on GameZone, we’ll review a handful of new titles released for iOS and Android and update you on the biggest news we covered that week.
Impossible Road ($1.99 for iOS) is a one-man effort from developer Pixels on Toast, or former Rockstar Games and Electronic Arts employee Kevin Ng, and I’m not sure it could be better named. The game — in which you direct a white ball (“the vessel”) as it rolls down a narrow, spiraling course suspended in an otherwise empty space — is so minimalist that when you fail to do the only thing it allows you to do (no start screen, no tutorial — nothing besides play), the immediate impulse is to quit.
It’s a credit to the game’s design that you won’t want to.
If anything, the thumping techno music compels you forward when you’re reluctant to try again. This is, after all, an impossible road to conquer. Steering the vessel left or right is harder than it looks, and it looks pretty difficult from an onlooker’s perspective.
Sticking to the path is only part of the challenge. Imagine the precarious tracks in Super Monkey Ball or Rainbow Road in Mario Kart, and you'll understand how easy it is to fall off and tumble into the abyss. But Impossible Road encourages you to take shortcuts. You can “jump” off the course and land on a lower segment, where you can then pass through one of the numbered gates to earn credit for the successful cheat.
Freefall for too long without hitting roadway, though, and the screen will completely fade to white. That’s your sign of a game over, or your last few seconds to avert one.
Soon enough, you start to grasp the controls, and keeping the ball on the road comes easier. But maintaining momentum takes time and work, and the quickness of failure — or of setting a new personal record, which you can view on the leaderboards next to everyone else’s ridiculously high (impossible?) achievements — soon fuels the addiction.
Because the game is so cleverly simple, there’s little room for technical error, but it is possible for your thumbs to slip off the left and right onscreen arrows and ruin your oh-so-perfect curve midair. It takes a steady, firm grip to keep going. Finding the drive to pursue that next amazing score? Just try to resist.
Perfection (99 cents for iOS and Android) is another off-the-beat game you’ll want to play, especially if you enjoyed last month’s color-coordinated puzzler Blendoku. (I mentioned that was free, right? Go play it.)
Like Impossible Road, indie designer Greg Lobanov’s Perfection offers no introduction. It simply drops players into the game and lets them figure out the basics. While that technique works well for the former title, it makes Perfection more of a pain to learn. But once you do, you’ll understand the kind of payoff this cerebral game offers.
Players must manage two shapes: one large, colored one that floats like a glacier on water, and the one underneath, which is a simple outline. The goal is to cut (and sometimes rotate) the bigger shape so that it slides neatly into the design of the one below. Do this in as few moves as possible to achieve “perfection.”
I played around with a single shape for a good while — slicing and trimming without much of a plan — before I determined the best strategy. Mentally tracing the edges of both shapes to see where and how they match and diverge can give you a good idea of the kind of incision you need to make. Cuts must be clean, too; you have to strike through a complete section, from outer edge to outer edge. You can’t switch directions partway, either.
You can undo moves or skip puzzles, choosing from an endless array of random shapes when you want a fresh start. Some puzzles may require more than one move to master, adding an extra layer of challenge.
The game is basically this, though, so you won’t find a hidden pocket of action. It’s all about cutting a problem down to size.
Chuck the Muck
There’s something about puzzle-platformers that we love. The intensity. The brain-teasers. The ability to experiment with a set of tools, objects, and environments to see how they fit together.
Chuck the Muck (free for iOS and Android) from Kiz Studios — a game about launching a critter across the screen to collect ruby-red crystals, using “muck” named Chuck as a slingshot — removes those elements by oversimplifying its mechanics and handing players too many answers upfront. Not sure how to solve this puzzle up ahead? Here's a clue in a cutscene. Want to avoid those pesky Welk Guards that catch you when you pass by? Go redeem a free costume that lets you blend in before they cause any trouble.
The game, which contains 40 levels, is at least somewhat designed for kids, with fart humor and an adorable nature to the muck that’s so cute and babyish it will annoy most adults. But Chuck the Muck lacks the charm you’d expect from that type of game; getting all the crystals in a level can require a bit of strategizing. The puzzles can stump even older players.
The 2D animation looks much better than the 3D graphics, which is unfortunately what the developers chose for the gameplay. Levels feature little to no music and contain too much tedious backtracking (what with the flipping of switches and pressing of buttons, and so on). Trying to direct the critter around the screen often results in the accidental connecting and disconnecting of goo bridges when you’re too close to them.
What you probably will enjoy, though, is transferring the muck between different crystal points so you can form new launchpads to spring on. Chuck grows bigger, and the second area (with more to come) introduces a new enemy type that’s more fun to interact with than the Welk Guards, even when you’re wearing the suit that counteracts them (think Batman). It also adds in volcanoes that smash gems when they erupt.
The addition of costumes at least empowers players with special abilities and a new disguise for the critter, like Spelunker and Deep Sea Diver gear. But the core game deviates little from the flinging and crystal-collecting, which is made too undemanding of players who want to learn and employ new skills through creative game mechanics. Much of the experience is cut into by ad disruptions or distracting in-game messages, so staying interested takes more effort than it’s worth.
These games were reviewed on an iPad Mini.
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