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The last MiniClip turned iPhone game I tried, Fragger, was a real disappointment, and suggested that a small flash-based game designed to while away a few minutes downtime at work lacked the depth to make the successful transition to a different platform. Then I experienced Hambo, which suggests there's nothing wrong with the idea as long as you get the execution right.
Hambo is set over a series of single screens, each with the same objective: kill all enemies. There's a catch, though. Whilst Hambo is armed, he can't actually move around the screen. Instead, he must use his surroundings to kill enemies by bouncing bullets off surrounding walls so that they hit the bad guys.
Graphics are simple, but brilliant. Hambo himself (a pi wearing a bandana, of course) is a cute little chap, whilst the enemy soldiers (pigs dressed in army fatigues) are also good to look at. The graphics might be simple, but they are bold and brightly coloured and give the game a real cartoon-like feel. It also shows a real sense of humour and some nice little touches that will make you smile. When an enemy is lined up in your cross-hairs, for example, he goes from being half asleep to having a look of panic plastered all over his face; when you successfully kill an enemy, they explode in a shower of spam and bacon! It's fun little touches like this that raise the game above other MiniClip fodder.
Music is similarly amusing. The main title screen has a stirring militaristic tune, complete with pig snorts in place of percussion. The in-game music is not quite so strong, but it's a pleasant enough little tune and, despite looping constantly, doesn't become annoying or repetitive. Sound effects are fairly minimal (the bang of your gun; the exploding of an enemy), but are well-used and reflect the game's sense of cartoon-like humour.
The design of the levels is what really sets this game apart. There's been a huge amount of thought given over to level design and it really pays off. Although the basic idea remains the same on every screen, there is a surprising amount of variety when it comes to solving them. Some require precision shooting, calculating exact angles needed to bounce bullets off walls so that they ricochet into the enemies; others are more straightforward shooting affairs; still others require you to shoot enemies in a particular order so that you are able to reach them all.
This variety is a real strength because in introduces a higher level of challenge than you might expect. None of the levels are particularly difficult, but each one will make you pause for a few seconds before you wade in. Even once you've worked out exactly what you need to do you still need to execute it successfully, which is easier said than done on some levels.
Controls are another thing that shows how well-thought out the game is since they are so simple and intuitive. All you need to do is move your finger to line up the cross-hair and then press the gun button to fire. It's not quite one-finger gaming, but it's about as close as you can get. This gives the game real pick up and play appeal and makes it instantly accessible to anyone. Even Mrs SWSt (not renowned for her interest in computer games) enjoys the odd game on this one.
Hambo is just so much fun that it's almost impossible to put down. It's perfectly suited to mobile gaming, since each level takes about a minute to complete but, like Angry Birds, there's no such thing as a "quick game". Once you sit down and play a single level, you'll want to play another... and another... and another. The first time I fired it up, I only intended a quick game to see what it was like. Thirty minutes and 42 levels later, I realised I might be a little addicted!
The designers have given a lot of thought to maximising the playability of the game and giving the gamer a helping hand if they get stuck. Most games require you to complete one level before the next is unlocked. This can mean that if you get stuck on a level, you have to keep playing it, until you eventually beat it; something which can be deeply frustrating. Hambo has introduced a few sensible options which help to minimise these frustrations.
For a start, there's no "lives" system and you can have as many goes at a level as you need. Better still, if you're really stuck, you can view the solution for a particular level. The computer plays the level through and then you just need to copy the moves it makes. Using this method, you can get some help, but still have to actually beat the level yourself. If you're really stuck, then you can choose to skip a level completely and just pretend it doesn't exist. The game initially gives you three of each of these options, although more can be bought from the shop.
Where the game is most lacking is perhaps in the long term gameplay. Each level only lasts a few minutes and none are particularly tricky. It's not going to take even the most ham-fisted gamer that long to work their way through all the levels. There's always the challenge of going back and trying to get a gold medal on each level, but even that won't take that long. To be honest, though, it doesn't matter. It might be relatively short-lived, but it's such good fun that you won't care too much.
Probably the biggest downside is the cost. The game itself costs just 69p to download, which is very reasonable, but this only unlocks some of the levels. Further mission packs have to be bought as in-app purchases and buying all the currently available missions will set you back a hefty £6.99. When you consider you can also get Angry Birds for 69p - and that price includes all current levels plus any future ones created - then Hambo starts to look a little expensive.
If you're not convinced, then there is a free version (Hambo Begins) available. This lacks some of the features of the paid for version but it does offer a generous 42 levels for you to try out. This is how I got onto the game and I was so addicted that I completed all 42 levels in one sitting and then downloaded the full version and have never regretted it!
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012