Off The Leash iPad review

Publisher – Big Pixel Games – Developer – Big Pixel Games – Genre – Action – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 4+ – Price – Free In App Purchases – Yes

Finding new games on the App Store can sometimes be hit and miss, so when news appeared on a friend’s Twitter feed that this app was free, it seemed like a good idea to try it out. From the developer of Piyo Blocks, it uses a similar graphic style. A large update to version 1.3 added new features and turned the app into a universal version that works on any iOS device.

The story cinematic and tutorial reveals the story – the city has banned dogs from being off the leash, and has unleashed police roadblocks and cars to capture any strays. Steve the Labrador goes on the run, trying to save as many dogs as he can. The aim of the game is to run as far as possible before being caught, gathering a pack of dogs, using tilt controls. Each level is full of obstacles, including water that slows you down and hedges that trip up your dog and knock out the following pack. Fail to reach the next checkpoint before time runs out and the police roadblock will stop you. There are also police cars dashing down the screen to be avoided. The update has added a choice of venues before the action starts – the original park background, and the new track & field area that has to be unlocked.

Off The Leash - police cars

I fought the law... the dogs run into a heavy police presence

Along the way there are coins, food items and power-ups to collect. Coins can be used to purchase power-ups, new breeds of dog and to bypass missions. Food items and releasing dogs from their owners builds the level meter, and when it is full the lead dog increases in speed and enters a bonus section to earn more coins. There are two initial bonus rounds, the lumber yard (with logs floating on the water) and the surf shop (with the dogs borrowing surfboards until they are knocked off.) A third type of bonus level, the go-kart track, is unlocked after completing a set number of missions.

Who let the dogs out?

Riding along in my automobile - the go-kart bonus round

Missions are the key to earning extra coins and whistles. Each is a particular task, such as reaching a set distance or collecting a number of items. When the current set of three missions is completed, the trophy is awarded and the next set of missions opens. There are 33 sets of missions in total before they loop.

Whistles are one of the most important power-ups. Once per game, when a roadblock is reached, the whistle can be blown to summon the Big Dog to destroy the roadblock and permit the game to continue further. Extra whistles can be bought in the Store, found on the title screen. To increase the size of your pack, the x2 power-up will double the number of dogs following the leader – handy for reaching some of the mission targets.

There is also the chilli (to make the dogs invincible – able to “kill” police cars, run through hedges and run faster for a short time), the head start (unlocked after a while, this speeds your dog through the early checkpoints) and the magnet (draws food and coins toward your dog). Extra seconds can be earned by picking up the stopwatch. These are all available in a golden version for a set number of coins, increasing the range/effect of the power-up. Also in the store are headgear (cosmetic hats for the lead dog) and the option to automatically complete a mission. On the title screen is the kennel, where new breeds (eight in total, including Charlie the man in a dog suit) with different statistics can be bought. Certain missions require you to play as an unlocked breed.

Checkpoint Charlie

Reaching a checkpoint adds time, and some missions require you to pop those balloons

Graphically the game is quite cute, and the update to a universal app has reduced the blurring seen on iPad at 2x size. Push notifications can also slow down performance briefly. Sound effects are repetitive and there is a choice of the built-in music or your own tracks stored on the device. The controls are very simple, as tilting left and right moves the lead dog – the harder the tilt, the faster the dog moves sideways. Touching and holding the screen turns the pack into a following line, designed to get through narrow gaps. At times the placement of bonus objects can appear deliberately difficult, leading to missing them. Another aspect changed in the most recent update is the zoom effect. In earlier versions, hitting an obstacle would zoom in to the dogs as the player sped up again. The display also zoomed out in the bonus areas, making them feel longer. These have both been reduced, for the better. Another glitch, where the large bonus whistle slowed the game, has been fixed. The Track & Field background, although nicely timed for the Olympics, does feel a little flat and uninspiring compared to the original design.

With new features gradually unlocking and the variety of missions, it is worth putting in the time to see all the game has to offer. It can feel like a grind at times, even with the ability to watch preview videos earning 500 free coins at a time. But a well-judged set of Achievements and the Game Centre/OpenFeint leaderboards offer plenty of reason to keep playing. In App Purchases allow you to buy more coins, which does devalue the effort of earning them. Off The Leash is well suited to short bursts of play, and will certainly amuse younger players.