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To fans of retro gaming, the talented chaps Ovine By Design are cult heroes. For the love of gaming (with a bit of money on the side), they write original retro games or re-programme old ones that help keep the spirit of 80s gaming alive. To date, their games have mostly been PC based and The Sky is Falling is their first venture into iOS gaming.
The Sky is Falling is defiantly and unashamedly retro. It looks and sounds like a game straight out of the 80s when memory was limited, but imagination limitless. For people who remember those heady, long ago days, that's a good thing. And, since it comes with a healthy dollop of simple, but addictive gameplay, it's not such bad news for more modern gamers either. Look past the basic presentation and The Sky is Falling is full of old-fashioned fun.
The concept behind The Sky is Falling is very straightforward. You control a little stick man who runs endlessly through a cave from left to right. The ceiling is covered with stalactites and the roof is slowly, but surely moving down. As you run through the cave, you must shoot a bullet upwards to destroy the stalactites before they get low enough to skewer you. Destroy all the stalactites and you get to do it all again in a different cave; fail and you've got a date with an undertaker.
Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, think again because, like a lot of old games, The Sky is Falling is pretty tough. For a start, you can only fire one bullet at a time (unless you have collected the temporary multi-fire power-up), so you have to pick your shot carefully and make sure you take out the stalactites that pose the biggest threat first. Then, from about Level 3 onwards, bats are introduced as an additional hazard. These fly across the screen and if you hit one of them with your bullet, it stops - essentially wasting a shot. All this time, the roof is bearing down on your inexorably, adding a real sense of panic and tension. The Sky is Falling might sound easy, but trust me, things soon get tough out there.
If you judge The Sky is Falling on looks alone, then it's never going to get your cash. Graphics are best described as basic and functional. It could have been created on a Vic-20 and still had memory left over. The main character is just a stick man, the stalactites are just brown pointy things attached to the roof of a mountain and the rest of the graphics are similarly basic. Despite being small and simplistic though, they ooze character in a way that is often lacking in more realistic modern games. There's a certain charm to your stick man as he is relentlessly pursued by a bouncing boulder and you feel bad when he is hit by it, as he sits rubbing his head before floating up to heaven.
Despite the simplicity, there are some nice graphical touches that again hark back to the 8 bit days when games dared to show a bit of simple humour. Complete a level and your stick man bounds up to the top of the mountain and waves, awaiting rescue by helicopter, hot air balloon or UFO in a fun little cut scene that gives you a few seconds to catch your breath before you head off to do it all again. It's little things like this that show how much care and attention has been put into the design. Sure, the cut-scenes become a little repetitive (there are only three of them, repeated in sequence), and it's mildly frustrating that you can't skip them if you want to, but on the whole I'd rather have the graphical charm of this than the bloated "realism" of some PS3 titles.
Sound is also pretty basic, comprising of the usual simple, repetitive tunes and occasional beeps you would expect. They work well though in conjunction with the simple graphics and show you don't need a full orchestral score to create an atmospheric game.
Continuing the theme of "less is more" are the controls which are simple but effective. All you have to remember is that when you want to fire a bullet, you tap the screen. That's it. So simple, even a slightly dim amoeba could probably work it out. Rather than burdening the game with complex controls, this is just a test of your timing and hand-eye co-ordination - just like in the good old days!
Of course, the gameplay does become repetitive fairly quickly since, beyond the size and positioning of the stalactites, there is no variety between levels. However, because the basic gameplay is pure, unalloyed fun you'll soon find it exerts a strange hold on you. You'll settle yourself down for "one quick game" and look up to find that an hour has passed. Long term playability is ensured by the simple lure of trying to beat your high score. There are few games I still playing months after first downloading them, but this is one of them. It's so addictive that sometimes when I've not been playing it, I've found myself THINKING about playing it, which is slightly disturbing.
It's on the issues of scores that The Sky is Falling loses its one star. Although there's a great retro style hi score table (complete with colour strobing letters and numbers), you can only compete against yourself. There's no online GameCenter or OpenFeint integration, so you can't compare your score against other players, which is a shame. Work on online integration guys and I might even give you your fifth star back.
Best of all is the price: just 69p for a game that will keep you playing for hours. There might be better looking games out there for that price, but there are few that are as addictive.
© Copyright SWSt 2012