Banzai Rabbit (surely Banzai Bunny would have been better?) is little more than a clone of that 80s classic Frogger, where you have to guide your character across a busy road to accomplish a goal (in Frogger it was to be re-united with your girlfriend; in Banzai Rabbit, it's to rescue people). Still, the iPhone has proved a healthy breeding ground for updates of old arcade games, so my hopes for Banzai Rabbit were quite high.
It kicks off with an excellent attract mode, presented in a comic-book style (you can even swipe your finger across the screen to "turn" the page). This sets up the (slightly insane) back story in an impressive fashion which immediately grabs your attention. True, the accompanying music (a short tune which loops endlessly) is rather annoying and repetitive but generally, this is an impressive an introduction as you'll see to an iPhone game.
Two scientists - one evil, one good - get involved in an experiment that goes horribly wrong. One gets crossed with a rabbit, the other with a flea. The flea-human hybrid wants to take over the world and only Banzai the rabbit can stop him.
Slightly bonkers though this story is, it actually adds quite a lot to the game, giving you a reason for what you are doing. On each level, you must rescue a number of innocent civilians from being poisoned by your flea nemesis, so it's not just aimless bouncing around
In terms of the actual game, things are a little less innovative since, as I've already said, this is little more than Frogger with a new lick of paint. The action is viewed from above and you must guide Banzai across busy roads and rivers to help the people in distress. Each level takes place on a single static screen which you must cross several times before you can complete that level and move onto the next.
The difficulty level of the game is well-pitched. Early levels feature sparse, slow moving traffic with big gaps between vehicles making it easy to pick a safe path through. As you progress, the difficulty gradually increases; cars become faster and roads busier, so that the chances to cross safely are more limited and your risk of being hit greater. The boats which cross the river section are replaced by submarines which disappear without warning, drowning your bunny buddy unless you make a frantic hop elsewhere. Later levels even feature a train between the road and the water, which appears at regularly intervals to make life even tougher for poor old Banzai. Yet, despite this increasing level of difficulty, the game rarely feels unfair and if you die, it's usually because you misjudged a leap or didn't react quickly enough to a hazard.
Bonus levels can also be collected on each level to help you. Green blobs give you the option to continue play from your current level is you die; others slow everything down making life easier whilst, a super jump means Banzai can jump further. These are scattered all over the place and create the perfect risk-reward balance to he game play. Do you try and get some of these precious collectibles, but run the risk of not rescuing that next civilian within the time limit, or do you concentrate on your main goal, but then not have these precious abilities to call on when needed?
The game play is not without annoyances. Sometimes a fire hydrant gets in your way, preventing you from getting to the pedestrian on the other side of it. Despite the fact there is a gap behind it, you can't just hop around it, and instead have to jump back into the road (risking life and limb once again) and go around the front. There's no real need for this - there are enough challenges and obstacles in poor Banzai's way as it is, without adding in more, unnecessary ones.
Graphically the game is excellent, maintaining the quality of that opening sequence throughout. The forced 3D perspective works very well, allowing you a good overview of the play area. The cartoon style perfectly suits the off-beat nature of the game and generally, it's on a par with some games that graced the original Playstation. Of course, the world of computer game graphics has moved on since then, but the style works well on the iPhone's screen.
The pseudo-3D of the graphics can occasionally cause problems. From time to time, your enemy flies over in his flea-shaped helicopter to gloat or drop more toxic fumes, and this can bloke your view of the game area, which can sometimes be fatal and is always annoying.
Sound is reasonable, with some good (if basic) sound effects and an in-game tune which (unlike the one over the introduction) does not grate or become too repetitive. Sound is a weakness of many iPhone games and whilst Banzai Rabbit is not going to change that, at least it doesn't have you grasping for the Volume Off button!
Controls have been very well-implemented to make the most of the iPhone's touch screen capabilities. Moving Banzai around is a simple case of swiping your finger in the appropriate direction. The controls are very responsive and generally interpret your movement quickly and correctly.
I say generally, because sometimes if you don't quite make the correct contact, the game mis-reads your intentions. On a number of occasions, I swiped the screen to move forwards and the game interpreted it as a jump to the left. Given the frantic pace of some of the later levels, such a mis-read inevitably results in death. It's only an occasional fault, but you can pretty much guarantee that every time it happens, it's going to cost you a life.
The Super Jump and Slow buttons can also get in the way of the action. They sit in the bottom left hand corner of the screen and are rather large, taking up around a quarter of the screen between them. Since they are not transparent, they can also block out potential hazards. Ironically, even though they are quite big, I actually found them a bit quite tricky to access. Often, the only way to do it was to find myself a safe spot on screen, stop and then press the relevant one - yet it's usually the case that when you need these icons when you are in trouble and don't have safe spot to get to! In the end, I rarely used them and found myself relying more and more on my own reactions to get me out of tight spots.
Banzai can also become a little repetitive, since every level is simply a slightly tougher version of what has gone before it. It's fun to play for a while, but it's not going to be a game for the long term, either in terms of long gaming sessions; it's also unlikely that you still be playing it in three months' time. Still, it only costs 59p, so even if you only get an hour's game play out of it, you can't really complain!
The good graphics and well-balanced, gradually increasing difficulty level means there is a lot of challenge to be had from Banzai Rabbit, and it's a fun little game to play. As I said at the start, it might only be an updated version of Frogger, but it's very professional and highly polished little game in its own right.
© Copyright SWSt 2010