Developer: Wired Developments
Publisher: Wired Developments
Available on: iPhone, iPad (Reviewed on iPhone)
Surely making fifty-nine pence iPhone games isn’t rocket science. Unless it’s a game about rocket science. And gravity. And portals.
All too often developers are not given enough credit for creating brilliantly fun and opium-grade addictive titles that cost less than a king-size Mars bar. The quality (and shear affordability) of titles in the 59p price range have created some massive selling and high grossing games and now Wired Development wants in on this goldmine, releasing its own “extreme physics puzzler”, Rocketeer. However, this low price galaxy is pretty clustered and Rocketeer will have to offer something special to shine brightest.
GRAPHICS: Reminiscent of the presentation used in Midway arcade machines during the late nineties, Rocketeers menus and presentation don’t set a particularly high watermark for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, Rocketeer’s missions can’t even exceeds this lowly standard. Planets are reasonably colourful, but never bright. The Rocketeer himself is blurred and uninspiring; there is just too little detail on the tiny sprites and, frankly, you could be firing a china plate through outer-space for all the character communicated by these supposedly crazy-brave spacemen. The game just doesn’t have the bold colours of Angry Birds or blazing particle effects of Peggle and ends up looking archaic by comparison.
SOUND: You could make the argument that, if you are going to cut corners when developing your iPhone game, then the best place to start is audio. Usually sound is being played through the horrible on board speakers or, if headphones are used, the owners own music is likely playing over the top. Wired seemed to take this idea to heart when recording the sound effects for Rocketeer. If ‘sixteen-bitty’ was a word, I would describe the effects as sixteen-bitty. Not in a retro, ‘ain’t it cool’ way, but in a ‘oh, isn’t that cheap’ way.
The music is a shorter loop than a scalextric track and only plays in the menu. Or, in an odd quirk, the first level after you multitask back into the game. It makes you pine for the cold, dead silence of outer space.
GAMEPLAY: This game fits easily into the groove carved out by the myriad other physics puzzlers available on in the iTunes App Store. The basic premise is incredibly straightforward; you need to fire your little space cowboy from a launchpad into a vortex whilst navigating all manner of planets, portals and asteroids blocking or warping your path with their gravity. Firing the space ranger is controlled by a simple (but uninspiring) tap on the screen, with speed and direction controlled by the angle and distance of your tap from the launcher.
Despite all this simplicity, Rocketeer can be a surprisingly challenging and thoughtful puzzler. The early levels strongly reward pre-planned puzzling and balancing the speed of your ship with the planet’s gravity leads to some of Rocketeers’s most satisfying moments.
It is a shame that things get worse and not better. Some of the later levels are incredibly fussy. I often, unknowingly, found myself to be pixels away from the solution to a puzzle only my chubby fingers couldn’t pin-point the exact pixel for the perfect shot. Considering this game was designed for the iPhone and iPad, it’s crying out for the precision of a mouse. Frustration can quickly set in as the logical solution refuses to work and it is all to easy just to spam rockets all over the map, hoping to get a lucky shot and advance a level. Worse, this strategy frequently works, meaning what should be a tricky puzzler can be solved just as easily through luck. Good puzzling should reward considered experiments and and forward planning, not carefree guesswork. Once you realise that the solutions can be found this way it is too easy to disengage your brain and Rocketeer loses its appeal.
LONGEVITY: Wired Development have made a real effort to stretch the life of this game: eighty levels, three different star ratings per level and a real variety of planets to influence the path of your mad spaceman all help bring you back for a second play. It is such a shame that replay value is hampered by a number of simple design choices. The basic tap mechanic is not new or compelling and once you have solved a level in a single shot there is nothing else to achieve. No searching for hidden eggs or mining the game engine for extra points. Worse, if you miss on your first shot and want to restart, you have to go back out to the main screen menu and then to the level select screen where you must long-windedly scroll through the levels (the levels don’t slide when you flick them, as with most iPhone menus) before you can start again. This journey through the menus is a twenty second round trip (yup, I timed it) and hugely frustrating when you are collecting the extra stars. Adding some scoring mechanic for long shots, or time on screen, or maximum distance could have alleviated this problem and it feels like a strange omission.
Wired have tried to ticked the boxes they can when it comes to extending the life of their game, but the niggles will test your patience way before the game is seen off.
VERDICT: For the price of a can of coke, can I recommend this game? No. There is such a variety of amazing software available for 59p (or less) on the iTunes store that picking this over the alternatives just seems masochistic. It isn’t a dreadful title, in spurts it can be quite addictive, but with so much choice you can afford to demand more from your games. Rocketeer fizzles on the launchpad and fails to take its place in the 59p stars.