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IVG App Review Round-up (16/12/12)

In this weeks mobile app round-up, we review an atmospheric zombie endless runner, an 8-bit platformer that tries a little too hard, a puzzle game where you control the destiny of an eye, and a sadistic stealth game wrapped in a game show. Yup, this is a weird bunch.

Into the Dead
by Sameer Desai

Platforms: iOS; Price: Free

Remember when zombies were scary; before they exploded into rainbows and glitter when you ran a chainsaw through them (thank you, “twisted mind of Suda 51”)? Into the Dead brings that sense of survival back via an intense first-person endless runner.

Going against rule #1 of the zombie apocalypse survival guide, this game has you running straight through the zombie horde rather than away from it screaming like a little girl. Into the Dead boasts of some seriously high production values – think Limbo with a lot more detail and in first-person. It’s sombre and hopeless and it fits perfectly. Best of all – it manages all this in just a 33.5 MB download.

You’ll be running through open pastures, cornfields and forests, all crawling with the undead. Tapping or tilting on the left and right moves you to either side as you evade zombies. Get too close to one and you’ll stumble a bit, but run into one head-on and it’s game over. The game also throws obstacles your way in the form of fences that you will scale automatically but stumble a bit as you land. Then there are trees, which are best avoided as glancing off one will often land you in the path of a zombie. Despite being in first-person, the devs have absolutely nailed the running, weapon and stumbling animations.

You’re not just running helplessly though; the game throws some firepower your way too. Ammo is limited, and while there are ammo stashes at regular intervals, they’re often surrounded by zombies, bringing in a bit of a tactical angle to the game – do you keep running along a safe path or go for the ammo and risk death? There are also power-ups that you can equip before each run (start with a weapon, skip first 1500 metres, extra ammo, etc). Each time you use one, you’ll spend some of your in-game currency, but you’ll keep earning enough that you can always equip a power-up.

Completing missions will grant you more powerful weapons such as chainsaws and shotguns, and completing each mission involves meeting three objectives. These range from simple ones like scaling three fences, to more challenging ones like chainsawing a zombie while in mid-air. The beauty of the game, aside from its stunning presentation, lies in how it compels you to alter your playing style and pick power-ups based on your current objectives.

Into the Dead is a free game, and while you can purchase stuff like weapon unlocks and in-game currency, you can easily do without it. It is quite easily the most fun I’ve had playing an endless running game, and no matter how jaded you may feel with zombie games, this is one you cannot miss.

9/10

Impossible Pixel
by Amit Goyal

Platforms: iOS; Price: Rs. 55

Making a throwback to the 8-bit era of gaming is becoming something of a fad these days, which is why it is all the more important to not just make them for the heck of it (the time for that is long gone), but actually getting them right.

What does it take to get them right, you might ask? The guys who did Canabalt or Manos: The Hand of Fate or even Super Hexagon would be in a better position to answer that question. Sure, the genre requires its tough-as-nails difficulty, but that needs to be finely balanced with making the player feel that they died for a fault of their own rather than that of the game. That if they had only done it that way instead of this way, they would have got it.

In that respect, Impossible Pixel misses the point completely. The 8-bit black and white art packages a frustrating platformer, where the player must manoeuvre through a series of levels sporting spikes, chainsaws, pits and everything that it takes to kill you at the slightest error. And when I say slightest, I mean it in every sense of the word. There are portions that are so maddeningly frustrating because of the very little margin of error, that every time I managed to get across them, I felt like I did so by sheer luck rather than skill.

This is probably also because of the way the game controls. The game features three virtual buttons, left, right and jump. While they work well enough, the wall-jump feature, which is a significant component of the game, can get out of hand, and it left me with a feeling that I was never quite in control.

The other problem is the lack of incentive. The game features a significant number of levels, and the performance is judged on the basis of the time taken to complete a level. However, each level also features a coin that can be collected (which is of no consequence), and that is counterintuitive to the earlier criteria. The objective of doing so was probably to encourage replaying levels, but when completing a level once can so often feel like a chore, playing it again is completely out of the question.

5/10

Freeze!
by Amit Goyal

Platforms: iOS, Android; Price: Rs 55 (iOS), Free (Android)
Version tested: iOS

I mentioned in my earlier review about how the difficulty should be balanced in a manner that it makes failure feel like the player’s fault rather than the game’s limitation. Freeze gets that right… most of the time. The game features an eyeball as the protagonist, a trend far more disturbing than the overpopulation of birds. Trapped inside a maze, the player must manipulate the maze itself by turning it around, to make the eyeball reach a warp point.

Of course, there are enough obstacles, such as spikes and saw blades, to obliterate the eyeball at the slightest touch, so you have to careful. It is an interesting game, thanks to the smart level design in most cases. While a few levels can feel frustrating, most of them have been designed to apply both measured movements as well quick turns, making the gameplay quite engaging and tantalizing.

The game also features a freeze mechanic in certain levels, where by pressing the freeze button, gravity stops working and the eyeball gets frozen where it is (until un-frozen). It is not available for use in every level, and sometimes its use is also limited to add more depth to the gameplay.

The visuals, however, are dull and quite depressing. It is an artistic call of the developer, but the visuals combined with the sinister music can make the experience rather gloomy, which I felt was quite unnecessary for this game considering how light it is on story.

If you can live with that, the game is definitely worth a look.

7/10

Man in a Maze
by Sameer Desai

Platforms: iOS; Price: Rs 55

Would you step into a maze crawling with seeker bots and death lasers? No? How about if there was some incentive for making it out alive at the other end? Man in a Maze is a game show and you’re Chuck, the contestant – an overenthusiastic, ‘meet every challenge with a smile’ kinda guy. You would have to be, because in this sadistic blood sport, rewards for making it through each maze vary from coffee mugs and steak knives to board games and a block of cheese. That’s the incentive. It’s funny in a way, up until you enter one of the game’s many mazes.

Each maze is crawling with drone bots that follow pre-determined paths. Touch them and you’re ghost. Then there are laser beams aimed at vapourising you. The seeker bots are the trickiest though. Come into their line of sight and they will start chasing you around the maze, and you’ll have to get a few walls between them and yourself to throw them off your trail. You don’t just have to get to the end of the maze to complete it, mind you. No, that would be too easy. You have to collect gems and coins strewn around the maze, and this will often make you go back through areas you’ve already been. Collect all of them and the exit finally opens up.

It may sound like the odds are heavily stacked against you – well, they are – but you do have a weapon of your own. You get one tennis ball that you can throw at crates to pick up coins (used for power-ups) and you can even charge them up with electricity to attack bots. Once you throw the ball though, you’re going to have to chase after it to get it back.

What might appear to be a maze puzzle game at first glance is in fact a competent, and at times brutal, stealth game. And it helps that the game offers multiple control options, such as virtual sticks and touch-to-move, because you will often find yourself in a tough spot with bots closing down on you.

As you move from one maze to the next, you’ll essentially be faced with the same types of challenges, albeit progressively harder ones, so there is the danger of monotony setting in, but the game’s sadistically funny game show does help lighten the mood between levels.

Man in a Maze isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of stealth games will relish the challenge, and the game show setting is a nice bonus.

7/10

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