Things are moving ridiculously fast in the app store—I hardly can keep up with all the new puzzles becoming available every day! You might have noted that I keep adding updates to previous post when new apps arrive that simply replicate other puzzles (see for example my post on Rush Hour or Lights Out), or when previously criticized omission are added in updates (see for example my posts on Mouse House or Blocked). However, sometimes I will write a new post, when there is too much significantly new that has become available.
In this post I will revisit the topic of puzzles games that are similar in gameplay to one of those dinosaurs of computer games: Chip’s Challenge (for background, see my previous post on such games).
Four new Chip’s Challenge-like games became available over the last few weeks [links redirect to iTunes]:
And to foreclose the conclusion: Robo and Bobby Carrot are polished offerings, while Rocky and Escape are interesting, though need more refinement in their interface (note that this difference is also reflected in the price).
The major problem with all of these apps is the controls. All these games are tile-based, and such games are traditionally controlled with the arrow keys on a keyboard. This control-scheme cannot be used on the iPhone, because it does not have arrow keys. The simple solution (used by Bobby Carrot and Escape) is to use the edges of the screen as arrow keys. This is not practical, because these ‘keys’ are too far apart. You cannot control them blindly with one hand as with the arrow keys on a keyboard. There is also the directional approach (tap where you want to go) as used in Robo and Rocky. I find this is very confusing, because the meaning of a tap now depends on the position.
The first Chip’s Challenge variant in the app store, Loopy Laboratory, showed how to use the swipe and swipe-and-hold gestures to make a natural replacement on the iPhone for the arrow keys. The second variant, Mouse House, originally did not have these, but has added them in a recent update. Please, developers, check out the control scheme of Loopy Laboratory. That will make your game into a real iPhone game, and not just a port from another platform.
Bobby Carrot Forever is by far the most extensive, variable, polished game of the set. It has been around in other mobile versions since 2004, so the developers have experience with this medium. It is a cute Chip’s Challenge variation with all the expected problems, like paths with only one direction, paths that can only be passed once, buttons to change passages, and carrots (no chips) to be collected before the goal can be entered. My first impression of the game is that the number of different objects is a bit bewildering (though I expect to get used to them soon). Also, the first levels are a bit haphazard. They are difficult enough, so they should appeal to advanced puzzlers. However, they feel like a random selection of elements jumbled together, instead of one clear ‘theme’ per puzzle, which was one of the great elements of the original Chip’s Challenge level design. It’s the ominous ‘aha’ effect that is missing in Bobby Carrot. Still, this game has great value–but please change the controls!
There are two different games on ‘regular’ computers that are called “escape”, and both are clearly inspired by Chip’s Challenge. There is Escape from NuclearNova and there is Escape from Tom Murphy. I have no idea how this situations arose, but it is a bit confusing. Now, of those two, Tom Murphy’s Escape is by far the most interesting: it is a puzzle platform to which users can upload their levels, and rate levels by others. The difficulty of the levels is at times extraordinary. Some of those puzzles really are top of the bill when it comes to level design. In his forum, Tom has announced that he his working on an iPhone version, but that other obligations are currently withholding him. Let’s be patient.
In contrast, Escape from NuclearNova is a rather simple and not very nice looking Chip’s Challenge variant. This game has already been ported to the iPhone and is now available in the app store as Escape (there is also a Lite version, shown here to the right). Unfortunately, the port for the iPhone is very badly made. Complete screens of the computer version are shown at once on the iPhone, resulting in tiny graphics (there does not seem to be any zooming option). I didn’t have the nerve to try more than a few levels. Maybe the puzzles become interesting later on, but then first the presentation has to be more appealing for me to try that out. (One positive aspect: there is free level choice in this game! Rejoice!) To repeat: let’s be patient and wait for Tom Murphy to port his version of Escape!
Rocky is another level puzzler, in which you have to gather diamonds to be allowed access to the exit (screenshot to the left here). Different from the other games discussed here, it has a side-scroller like appearance. The graphics are very simplistic, but that would not be a problem if the puzzles and the user interaction would be fine. As for the user interaction: my favorite swipe is used for moving one step, but unfortunately swipe-and-hold is not used for continuous movement in that direction. You have to tap the end position for that (though this works only for movement in a straight line). In my experience, controlling the movement was sluggish, and I didn’t feel like trying very many levels. The behavior of many objects is likewise not completely clear (planks seem to be passable from below, and you can step down through them, rolling rocks are moving also diagonally down, though they not always crush you when you are standing diagonally). This game seems to be a work-in-progress, and hopefully the behavior is clarified and streamlined in the future. The developer says he is making new levels available regularly, so there might be room for improvement.
Robo (screenshot shown at the top of this post) is a bit different, as it takes only one aspect from Chip’s Challenge, but develops this into great depth: laser beams, with reflections and blocking. You can push the lasers, the mirrors and rocks, and there are also bombs that destroy objects (including yourself if you do not watch out) when ignited by a laser. That’s all. I really like this minimalism, which stands in striking contrast to Bobby Carrot. The levels I tried are fine puzzles, but the pesky controls kept me from working may way up to higher levels. However, when the controls change, this seems to be a really interesting app to spend more time on.
As an aside, I would like to mention another game here, which is not a Chip’s Challenge derivative, but it might appeal to people who enjoy such games: Archibald’s Adventures (there is also a Lite version available, screenshot shown to the right). It is a puzzling side-scroller, though the depth of the puzzles as available in the lite version is limited. There is some dexterity necessary, and the virtual d-pad controls are not ideal in my opinion. Still, the game is highly polished and really fun to play, so check it out if you have some time left!
[Update 5 April 2009] In the meantime Bobby Carrot Forever got updated to version 1.1 and it now includes swipes and swipe-and-hold for movement. Hurrah! The implementation is really sweet, because you can even change direction in a swipe-and-hold gesture. Recently, the developers of Bobby Carrot announced that they will make older levels available for the iPhone as well. The first of these retro-Bobby-Carrot-apps is already available: Bobby Carrot 1. I actually like this version much better than the more extensive Bobby Carrot Forever, because in these large levels the puzzles become confusing due to their size. In Bobby Carrot 1 the levels are small and clearly arranged. Still, from level 22 onward they start becoming really difficult. In the screenshot just a little part of level 23 is shown. This part alone would be completely sufficient for a whole level—it is really tricky to solve. As so often, less is more!