4NR iOS review

Developer: P1XL Games Genre: Platformer  Players: 1 Age Rating: 9+

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later, universal app  Tested on: iPad 2  Price: 69p/99c

In App Purchases: No

Sam Washburn and Robin Harbron of P1XL Games have a love for retro, and it shines through in this quirky platform game. The graphics have a Game Boy feel, the chiptune music uses an NES player routine and the sound FX emulate the TIA chip in an Atari 2600. So what does it play like?20121127-135439.jpg

After a rapid and tiny (1Mb) download, the moody intro gives way to the game. Here you are faced with an intriguing choice – a ladder appears leading upwards, or you can risk heading down instead. Control is by swiping and tapping, learning how to jump accurately and dig down being crucial to progress. The screen also wraps around horizontally, allowing even more complexity in the game layout.

Heading upwards sees the player collecting white stars. Using these allows the character – strongly reminiscent of Captain Video from the Bit.Trip games – to warp upwards to a platform above. The route is complicated by directional arrows, which only allow the player to move through them in the direction they point. But this is not a sedate game of exploration. A rising tide of black clouds follows the player, eventually obscuring the view and ending the game when it reaches the top of the screen.

Heading downwards allows the player to collect black coins. Using the coins means the character can dig through soil, at a rate of one block per coin. Here the risk is getting trapped without coins to dig, the light fading when the player stops making progress and likewise signalling the end of the game.

With two different routes to try, there are actually four possible endings to see. The Stats screen keeps track of the distance covered up or down, the number of coins and stars collected, and the fastest time to completion for each route. This gives an incentive to play again, improving the time and overall score (calculated from objects collected and distance covered).20121127-135642.jpg

At first glance the game looks graphically simple, but it has the retro charm and some nice effects including the eerie black smoke. The player can choose between the moody and atmospheric music and the simple but effective sound FX, with the option to turn both off. Together the graphics and sound work well, and the presentation is similarly minimalist but easy to understand.

If the touch controls are not to the player’s liking, Bluetooth control systems such as the iCade can be used instead. One quick tip is to watch the character’s “eyes” – he will jump in the direction he is facing, and a simple swipe will make him face the other way. While the two routes are not significantly long, that Stats screen invites more play. It would be great to see more levels in a future update, extending its lifespan.

4NR is well put together and is great for short bursts of mobile gaming. This is exactly the sort of app to have on your iOS device if you fancy something different. Small developers like P1XL Games are made for the App Store, and buying this will encourage them to be more creative. And it may interest you to know that this entire review was done directly on the iPad, with the WordPress app.


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