Warning: mobile games can cause severe earworms. This week I’ve been warming to Whale Trail – which Adam covered last week – and with that the Gruff Rhys track of the same name has become firmly stuck in my head. The lyric, “I can see my house from here,” in particular, in a very bad approximation of a Welsh accent. It’s been that or The Crystal Maze theme tune. Or, bafflingly, ‘Baby Come on Over’ by Samantha Mumba.
Enough. We begin this week with a Multi-Writer Bonus Round! – as Adam tackles Wonton 51.
A game named after a Chinese dumpling, featuring bowls of Japanese ramen, and sushi signs. The mix-up is probably intentional, as the game tries to cram in anime cliches, lolspeak and “endless bullet dodge panic!” gameplay, somewhat like Ikaruga as designed by anime fans.
Retro-style shooters are generally well suited to the iPhone. In Wonton 51 you juggle between shooting and dodging waves of bullets, which can make for an intense and tricky experience, but sometimes gets hampered by the limited controls. You need one index finger to slide your character left and right, and another to aim shots. It’s a mechanic that would make use of dual thumbsticks on a console, so the iPhone’s touchscreen is a slight hindrance.
Wonton 51 feels like a game with good intentions. The artwork has a certain charm and the sound effects have a nice 8-bit NES-style vibe (plus random Japanese girl speech samples). If you keep at it there’s enough of a challenge, though it doesn’t really manage to ramp things up or go far enough, which you kind of wish it would.
Having never owned a Nokia phone, the Snake phenomenon passed me by completely; frankly, it didn’t feel like I was missing much. But I am thoroughly ashamed that I let Hard Lines pass me by when it was released in the summer: it’s outrageously good.
There are plentiful modes, but all basically boil down to moving your line around the screen, collecting glowy things, forcing other lines to run into you, and trying not to run into your own tail. It’s perfectly entertaining score chasing stuff, but elevated to sheer brilliance by a staggeringly well-judged dose of humour.
The lines regularly spew short lines of text, with references from The Fast Show to Futurama, and doubtless many that I missed. It doesn’t become an unwelcome distraction, precisely because it’s not distracting if you’re trying to concentrate on not dying – which, in the wisely named Gauntlet mode, is frequently all you can do. Wonderful stuff.
I enjoy a good boss battle; though I hate a generic boss battle at the end of a long level. A game focusing on boss battles, then, sounds like a good idea: all of the developer’s energies going into imaginative boss design, and no slogging to get to them.
It’s remarkable, then, that the bosses in Boss Battles are so uninspiring. They’re interesting enough cosmetically, but there’s no thinking required, just constant shooting. Which is pretty inexcusable.
On the plus side: it’s free, with the option of in-app purchases to buy upgrades and avoid a bit of grinding. It’s still not worth it though.
Since Challenge became available on Freeview, I’ve watched a fair bit of The Crystal Maze, and it’s still brilliant. The Richard O’Brien era, anyway; Ed Tudor-Pole does not compare. Fortunately it’s O’Brien who features in the game.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t feature very much. There’s a soundboard, but that aside speech samples are few and far between, and you have to make do with text. It’s not as evocative as it could have been, then, though the moving-to-a-new-zone sequence has made it wonderfully intact.
The games themselves are generally quite simple. Towers of Hannoi, anyone? Slide puzzle? Not desperately original, but serviceable fare – and reasonably representative of the TV show.
It just turns out it’s more fun to watch than play. Which is a shame, because the developers seem so enthusiastic and eager to please.