Mobile Musings – DrawRacing, Cows, Anomalies & SpinTripping

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Moo-bile gaming!

Welcome to a brand new feature we’re introducing here at NGB called Mobile Musings. This fortnightly feature will focus on mobile phone game reviews on the iOS, Android and Windows Phone platforms. We hope you enjoy it!

To kick off the feature Adrian Purser gives you his thoughts on DrawRace HD, Saving Moo HD and Anomaly Warzone Earth HD for the iPad. Finally, Tom Mills delivers his verdict on SpinTrip for the iPhone.

DrawRace 2 HD
(iTunes Preview)

Perhaps best known for the seminal Trials HD, RedLynx’s iOS effort is a clever take on the time trial formula, reproducing a similar style of precision gaming without condemning its efforts with a hideous “virtual d-pad” or near equivalent. Viewing a blank track from a top-down perspective, you draw out your laps in a very literal sense, tracing the course with a finger in the hope of creating the perfect racing line. Then, sit back and watch as the camera starts panning in and around the course as a proxy driver follows this exact path, and you then realise in horror the errors of your ways. Who’d have thought that cars can’t actually turn instantly at right angles, or that brakes had a purpose beyond stifling any Days of Thunder fantasies you might have harboured?

It’s with this horror that the subtleties of the games control system becomes apparent, where a slower drag of the finger over an area is translated into a more liberal use of the brake, and a quick swipe sees the virtual pedal hitting the floor. Usage of the brake also charges up a boost, which can be unleashed as you follow your driver’s efforts – and tempting as it is to unleash this at every opportunity, doing so will throw you so far off your racing line that the time you saved will almost certainly be squandered in just getting back on course. The tracks themselves range alongside the variety of vehicles in offer too, and despite playing in the same way these genuinely need to be approached in a different manner; trying to tackle a snow-covered rally track in the style of an F1 driver is going to get you nowhere fast. Except maybe a hospital.

There are some bonus levels too, where typically a slightly more open course is laid out, with a trail of targets in place for you to plough through whilst still trying to beat out another driver to the finish line. It’s not really enough to say there’s much variety of the game, but that’s not what’s good about the game anyway. What is good about it is just how precise the controls are – even with the most steely of hands it’s hard to imagine being able to perfectly replicate any given lap, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible requires the kind of focus that is bordering on the obsessive. The detatchment from other drivers as you plot your course lends itself nicely to a slightly more passive multiplayer experience too, and sending out and managing active challenges is effortlessly handled through a slick Game Centre integration.

Whilst there’s little question about whether the game is worth the asking price, there’s a degree of cynicism in the layout of the game’s content that does sour the experience a little. Given the less than subtle placement of in-app purchases to unlock the majority of the game’s content, you can’t help but notice that the number of tasks required to do this manually seems a little excessive. This aside, it still does what it does well, and is a solid example of what can be done if you work to the strengths of a platform rather than just trying to emulate the tried and tested. 9/10

Saving Moo HD
(iTunes Preview)

With the only distinguishable characters being of the four-legged, grass-chewing variety, Saving Moo pitches hard with a distinct style that attempts to charm players with its own blend of cutesy quirk. As a farmer overlooking his field, your job is to protect your herd from an invasion of aliens who insistently try and ‘beam up’ your cows. Remaining cows left on the playing field produce dung that you collect with a tap of the finger; dung that as currency can then be used to either amass more cows, or to prime your current bovine army with weaponry to battle back the UFOs. Each stage sees a smattering of enemies come and go, and is typically rounded off by one large wave at the end, with a victory here netting you a new type of weapon for the next stage. Sounding a little familiar? Rightly so – as important as it is to judge titles on their own merit, it’d be a staggering oversight not to mention the rather obvious inspiration Saving Moo takes from any number of trailblazing iOS titles, with Plants vs Zombies in particular being a very obvious source of any number of ideas.

Unfortunately, it’s certainly not as enjoyable or as charming as any number of its peers in the tower defence space. Although the challenge ramps up pretty swiftly, it’s without question that a lot of this challenge is derived majorly from the bizarre lack of control you have over some elements. The game space itself is entirely un-segregated, and as well as cows choosing their own space to occupy (and how long to dawdle on their way there), you’re often left cursing in frustration as they each choose an independent target as opposed to working together on the most imminent threat. The charm is entirely subjective too, and given the range of titles to choose from in the space, it’s hard not to recommend looking elsewhere if your first impressions are not wholeheartedly positive. 4/10

Anomaly Warzone Earth HD
(iTunes Preview)

Mobile games; watered down, small scale versions of their console bretheren, right? Right? Anomaly Warzone Earth sets out to quash any such preconditions from the word go, opening with an impressive FMV sequence, leading you with a fully-voiced narrative, and churning out some solid-looking graphics at a silky smooth framerate in game. It’s all very impressive – gloss over the iPad in your hands, and the game’s first impressions could easily fool you into thinking this is a high-budget digital download title from any of the current consoles.

The game design itself is a little less stand-out, but still plenty fun. In essence it’s tower defence, but flipped head-over-heels in an attempt to freshen things up. You assemble a convoy of tanks, APCs, missile launchers and the like, and then are given a blueprint of enemy-occupied territory to plot a route through. Although through this you can see exactly what lies in wait, plotting out your path is often still quite some task – differing enemy types have alternative attack ranges and patterns for you to learn, and often you find yourself coaxed into even the most treacherous of areas, under the promise of precious resources to harvest in an effort to fund more units. With both high rates of destruction and quick completion of levels being evaluated, working out how best to ensure efficient and safe passage for your ensemble is not always immediately obvious.

Once this tactical stage is out of the way, a more action-orientated stage kicks in as you begin to roll out. A variety of powers at your disposal are deployed with a simple touch, creating an area-of-effect bubble that provides useful support powers, such as a mobile repair facility, or a shroud to hide your squad, reducing the accuracy of incoming fire. These powers aren’t limitless though, and although additional uses can be found throughout the levels, sparing use of these is needed to avoid running short as stages get progressively longer. New artillery and upgrades to your exiting line-up continue to be available throughout this stage, and can be deployed tactically as and when you need them.

In terms of production value, Anomaly Warzone Earth is unquestionably up there with the cream of the App Store crop. There’s even been some effort to drum up a fair degree of story, and whilst neither this nor the game in general are particularly ground-breaking, it’s a well executed title that strikes a solid balance between tactical and action-orientated play. 8/10

SpinTrip
(iTunes Preview)

SpinTrip sees you play as a Tisu, who is enlisted by a buddah-esque old man. He needs you to help him get his 5 Shims back from the evil Gants that stole them. As you make your way through the various levels in your Chibwheel, you’ll need to collect Chibs, which will provide you with the tools needed to progress and enter the Shimloon portal. Simple really.

It actually is. There are 8 Chibs, each with their own power up, from the ability to float on water to jumping higher to sawing through ice. Once you’ve found them within a level, they join you on the wheel and their power becomes available to use. Sadly, they deplete fairly quickly and switching between powers is cumbersome when in motion, meaning you’ll frequently take a hit or two when you encounter enemies as you switch from one Chib to the next.

The physics are a little off which coupled with the controls not being tight enough leads to frustrating moments when trying to negotiate the terrain, and whilst the notion of having to collect your skills before being able to use them is welcome, the levels designs are so basic that you’ll rarely find yourself stuck or needing to backtrack.

SpinTrip looks pretty enough, it’s bright and cheerful and the idea is pretty good, but at times it feels like it would be better off being stripped down. The variety of powers doesn’t need to be as wide as it is and at times the game feels all over the place as each level tries to crowbar in excuses to make use of them. It’s fun (ish, but in very small doses. 4/10

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