“ Developer: Littlegrey Media „
Remember the classic Star Wars arcade game from Atari with the sit down cabinet? If you don't, you might as well stop reading now because this review is likely to be of little interest to you - thanks for stopping by.
If you do remember it, it means two things: one you're at least as old as I am (depressing, isn't it?) and two you MIGHT like this game. I stress might because it's one of those games I feel should appeal to me, but which I just end up being pretty ambivalent about.
Vector Runner sees you pilot what I assume is a spaceship (it's actually just a rectangle) up the screen. As you progress, towers appear in the distance which need to be dodged. Hit one and you lose a life. You can build up points simply by travelling as far as you can before you lose all your lives, boosting your score by collecting different coloured blobs that appear from time to time.
The Star Wars arcade game influence is fairly clear in a number of areas. Firstly in the presentation: the vector graphics are very reminiscent of the old arcade classic; secondly in the basic game play. As soon as I fired it up for the first time, it reminded me of the level in the arcade game where you have to fly over the surface of the Death Star avoiding and destroying the towers along the way before beginning your trench run to attempt to destroy it. It's like that... only not as good.
It's in the presentation where that influence is most obvious. The whole game uses vector graphics to portray on screen objects with everything made up of simple coloured lines with no fill. Anyone under the age of about 28 will look at this and think it is ridiculously simple and plain: it is; but that's also its strength. For a start, the simple clean look makes it easy to spot hazards whilst the old-fashioned retro look will appeal to those who remember the original Star Wars cabinet game. Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly) the simple graphics mean that not too many demands are being placed on the iPhone's processor, so the game can race along at a very fast pace on some of the later levels.
Sound is similarly basic, but effective. Limited to a few simple spot effects (an electronic buzz when you pick up an item or a crashing sound when you hit a tower) they are in keeping with the game's stripped down presentation and work well. I could have done without the rather repetitive techno style tune that runs throughout as it's rather incongruous with the rest of the 80s style presentation and gave me a headache after a few minutes unless I turned the sound right down.
Sadly, what lets Vector Runner down is the repetitive nature of the core gameplay. In the Star Wars arcade game, the Towers level was only one part of the game. Sure, there were only three or four different sections, so that if you were good, you had to play the Towers section repeatedly, but the other sections broke up the action and provided some variety. In Vector Runner, there's not that same level of variety - Level 8 is exactly the same as Level 1, except a bit faster and with more towers to dodge. With no variety at all between levels, boredom soon sets in.
The bonus score globes do add a nice element of risk and reward. You can choose to play it safe and ignore these (in which case your score will go up quite slowly), or you can go after them all, but risk crashing into a tower (since they often appear close to them) unless you steer your craft carefully. Cautious players can just look to survive for as long as they can, taking no unnecessary risks, whilst more aggressive players can go into score attack mode and seek to rack up points as quickly as possible.
Vector Runner does cause some frustrations due to some slightly ropey collision detection. There were times when I seemed to heading straight for a bonus globe, but would miss it by the tiniest fraction and not be given the score bonus. At times, the collision detection seemed rather unfair and unless you flew right through the middle of the blob, you were not awarded the points. In fairness, you can also use this to your advantage in that you can get very close to towers and not actually die, so I guess it's a two-edged sword.
Sadly, the more aggressive score-chasing approach is not helped by the controls which I found to be rather unresponsive. In keeping with the rest of the game, controls are pretty simple, just requiring you to press the right or left hand side of the screen to steer your craft in that direction. It makes the game very easy to just pick up and play and even the world's worst videogame player can quickly get to grips with the controls! The fact that your fingers are naturally squeezed into these two corners also means there is no risk of them obscuring the action and any on-coming towers or score bonuses are easy to spot. So far, so good.
The downside is that the developers have decided to introduce inertia into the ship's movement. In order to get the ship to move any distance to the left or right, you have to hold your finger to the screen. Your ship will slowly start to move in that direction; the longer you hold it, the faster its progress will be. Unfortunately, thanks to this inertia, once you've removed your finger from the screen, or press the opposite direction, it takes a second or two for the ship's movement to stop: momentum will keep it travelling in that direction for a short period before the new direction kicks in.
As towers come at you at an increasingly rapid pace and are more numerous, this starts to cause problems. It's all too easy to crash into a tower because the inertia meant you weren't able to reverse your direction of travel in time. In fact, I never really felt in control of my ship at all and, failing to get to grips with the inertia, I saw my ship swerving violently from side to side and too often felt that my missing towers or collecting bonuses was more a matter of luck than skill.
There were times when I felt on the verge of mastering the controls (and there's no doubt that with plenty of practice you will get better), but the unresponsive controls will put off many gamers long before they start to feel they have mastered them. Moreover, because the action is so repetitive, it's not a game that you will play in long enough bursts to ever really master the controls fully.
Perhaps the biggest kick in the teeth comes with the price. I actually got this game for free as part of a limited time promotion. When I came to look up the cost for this review, I was astonished to find it will cost you £1.49. For all its pleasing retro appeal, the repetitive, dull gameplay, awkward controls and dodgy collision detection make it impossible to recommend at that price. There are far better iPhone games available for a much cheaper price.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
200,000 downloads and growing - that many Vector Runner addicts can't be wrong!