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Can Retro Survive the App Store?

Many of the typical iPhone users of today can remember the infancy of video games. First we went to arcades to play simple games made up of sprites or vectors. Many coins went into the slots that allowed you to play. Later companies like Nintendo started to make “Game&Watch” games which you could take with you. Their technical basis would always be an LCD screen where otherwise translucent areas would be made black opaque by electronics to manifest game characters. Movement would consist of several such on/off graphics switched in succession.

The iPhone and iPod Touch devices from today have orders of magnitude more computational power and for a modern game to be successful it has to feature fancy graphics, action and 3D. Or does it? I had a look at two games that like to be correlated to the “Retro” category while at the same time claiming to add “a new twist”. I was intrigued by such a bold statement and thus I am reviewing both apps in this article.

Have a look at those two candidate games and let me know if you think that Retro can be a viable category of games on the store. Or is it the past and should we be glad that it’s over?

Radial 50 – 360 Degree Brick Breaker

The mother of all brick breakers has to be Arkanoid, now Radial 50 takes the concept of ball versus bricks and makes it circular. But before you can get to play you first have to jump through a couple of hoops to create a profile or skip it. When I started the game the first time my impression was not a good one because it crashed two times, each time at a later stage. Also when submitting my user name there is no visual feedback so I hit several times and got the message that user “Drops” already exists. Still I got into the game.

Which is way more polished than the non-game screens. You get into it rather quickly as the simplistic game mechanic involves rotating the bar at the radial outside of the game by means of sliding upwards and downwards. If you don’t bounce back the ball you loose energy which is shown as bars next to the score. Thankfully this bar recharges after a while of juggling the ball.

Radial 50

I had one problem with the controls because my iPhone 3GS screen does not permit good gliding because of the fat repellant coating. With experimentation I found that the tip of the index finger tends to get stuck which the part where your fingerprint is located tends to glide much better. Older iPhones’ screens probably glide much better.

The graphics are polished to the max and the background rotates together with the bar which makes for an amazing visual effect. I also give extra kudos for the rockin’ soundtrack which has a sort of trancy quality to it and fits perfectly with the style of the app.

Gameplay: Easy to get into. Great style and suitable soundtrack. Does not pretend to be an adventure game, but is a diverse and original variant of the brick breaker theme. Sometimes I got often confused by the direction the ball would get reflected by the bar, because it seemed more random than physically correct to me. But I guess you have your hands full anyway rotating it around the screen with only the up/down on one side. Fans of the genre have something fresh worth trying out.

Technology: I hope that the makers will soon fix the bugs in the profile setup screen and when first (and second) loading the game. But that’s fixable if they take quality serious and analyze the crash reports. From the point of view of the game itself you see great layering, snappy and responsive animation, A+ sound and music and generally great production value.

According to Applyzer ranking data the app is being widely sold with Slovenia, Vietnam, Venezuela being the current top three in Games/Arcade. But apart from a couple off-mainstream countries it seems to quickly loose ground.

Radial 50 (iTunes), Radial 50 Lite (iTunes)

Great Leaping Lambrettinis

Here I totally salute the makers because their effort to make an iPhone era “Game&Watch”-style app is just as daring as the leaping of the Lambrettinis themselves. The makers of the game assured me that the design and everything about the game is brand new. Only the style of the graphics aims to be a salute to era of LCD based pocket games. Even the sounds effects fit the style they are the sort of beep you got from such a device. And

I already explained the general game mechanic in the introduction of this article, control generally happend via some early form of plus-shaped D-Pad and maybe two buttons similar to modern Gameboys the grandfather of which those where. That’s another area where a straight “conversion” simply does not make sense. Instead of simulating a D-Pad on screen you control the Lambrettini family via direct touch.

Great Leaping Lambrettinis

Touch the artists on the boards to make the switch sides. Touch the people towers to make the top artist jump to the left. The only thing that was not immediately clear to me was that you have to make room for the constantly new artists jumping from the tower on the right by having the artists on the leftmost tower jump. For this there was a 2 page instruction leaflet, which looks as if it would have been found inside the box that came with the game.

When playing I found my brain drifting into sort of an automated trance state formulating strategies that would make possible a new high score with the least accidents. In the end I had the most success (see screenshot) by tapping the towers left to right 1,2,3 and then the boards right to left 1,2,3 which the new artist jumping off the tower was still in mid-air.

Gameplay: Once you have studied the “leaflet” you immediately get into the game and you are pulled in. Like a juggler having to keep track of multiple balls in the air you get sort of a brain-hand-coordination high by relaxing into a blank mind state that is necessary to control 7 moving Lambrettinis at the same time. Playing the game I found that true retro LCD graphics give it a unique charm that’s missing from most other games on the store.

Technology: The artwork is beautifully handcrafted, technology becomes transparent to the user and thus permits immersion into the idea of the game. Outside you have a couple of animations but again those don’t destroy the illusion of having a new “Game&Watch” game on your iPhone. You basically have a static colored backdrop and black images that are made visible and invisible at the right time.

Looking at the Applyzer ranking data I can say that D/A/CH seem to “get it” while it’s being largely ignored in the rest of the world. It only sells a fraction of what Radial 50 manages to move.

Great Leaping Lambrettinis (iTunes)


Categories: Peer Review

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