Mobile developers like to make life hard for themselves, it would seem: platformers are thriving on mobiles, yet touch screens don’t have the delicious precision of physical buttons that the genre demands. Rayman Jungle Run notably rose to the challenge recently, but here are a couple of other recent examples that tickled my platforming fancy.
One solution to the buttons problem is to strip the controls right back. That’s exactly what Bitless does: your little square careers through the stage, changing direction if it hits a wall, and all you can do to help it get to the portal marking the end of the stage is tap to jump.
Simple controls, then, but the game makes life anything but simple. It’s a brutal test of memory and, for want of a better phrase, deftness of tap – a longer tap for a longer jump. Throw in wall jumps, crumbling platforms – which you might have to traverse more than once – and evil eyes that want to kill you, and you have a recipe for, well, some sort of iOS platform game, clearly.
It could be frustrating, but not only is the game brutally hard, it’s also brutally fair – with controls this simple, death is nobody’s fault but your own. The game’s post-death dialogue with you – “OUCH”, “DELICIOUS”, “LOLZ” – helps, as do rapid restarts. You might not see the end of the game – I certainly won’t – but it’s good to be pushed sometimes.
It’s also nice not to be pushed too hard sometimes, which is the approach Mikey Shorts takes. The virtual controls – left and right, jump and slide – are as good as they get, and perform admirably with the wisely dialled-back difficulty. Story mode can be rinsed through in a sitting or two, but that’s not the whole… er… story.
There’s also the small matter of dozens of trickier challenge levels, with strict limits to hit. As things get more frantic, the inherently slippery virtual controls occasionally reveal their limitations, but that’s not the lasting impression of the game.
Back to story mode, at first there isn’t even the concept of death, and later on falling through a gap only results in you being put back a platform or two to try again. This doesn’t remove all challenge though, because speed is the name of the game.
There are coins to collect, but other than touching every statue along the way, the clock is all that counts when it comes to your star rating. There’s a separate, optional target of collecting every coin, and finding the hidden pair of pants, but your chief concern is getting to the end of the level as quickly as possible.
Without death to unnecessarily concern you, this is good old-fashioned fun. You always succeed, which is nice – just at first you might succeed quite badly.
The oddball look of the game adds to the appeal, especially when you start spending your in-game coins on strange little disguises for Mikey. Yes, it’s a funny little game. But also a fun one.