Puzzle games are aplenty in the Appstore, so how does Kyttaro Games, known for their Bundle In A Box compilations, stick out of the crowd with their innovative Droidscape: Basilica?
Droidscape: Basilica (iOS)
(UK 2013, developer/publisher: Kyttaro Games, platform: iOS)
The fate of humanity lies in the hands of a time-manipulating man (a chronomancer) and his small droid Bishop 7 who has to free his master from prison on a spaceship.
Almost epic time travel story with not so stellar presentation
For a puzzle game, the background story and world building is rather impressive. However, the plot development is pretty slow and only happens after each stage with its many levels is completed. Identification with both the droid and its mentor remains difficult throughout the game, which is too bad, as there’s quite some potential. But as it stands, one could even play through it without giving the whole narrative a second thought, making it of course a bit problematic for the gameplay to motivate the player with a less than engaging story.
Record, play, fast forward, rewind the time
The goal of the game is very simple: Guide a small droid through levels with various obstacles to reach the exit while picking up keys for the doors’ respective colors. But the main gameplay idea is as interesting as it is frustratingly executed: In contrast to directly control the droid, its path has first to be planned/recorded and then replayed. This means that one has to move it via touch control, while this planning phase can then be used when everything moves in the real-time phase. It’s a mix of careful strategic and quick-reflexes thinking, because pressing the play-button (like watching a movie) is not enough. Only the path the droid takes is fixed, but the timed actions have again to be performed by the player.
If this all sounds a bit confusing, it certainly is at first and the gameplay needs some getting used to. It also requires nerves of steel when circumventing moving enemies. Usually, these have a certain movement pattern which is indicated by the direction of arrows. But there are also some who simply follow the droid wherever it goes. If this wasn’t enough frustration, the developers decided to implement an energy meter which depletes with each movement. Even if this can be filled again by standing on certain platforms, it’s still frustrating to fail a level just because one didn’t have enough time when enemies closed in on the droid.
Frustrations come back and new problems turn up
It’s worth mentioning, though, that the new enemy types and various puzzle elements are introduced in small doses, so that the player usually gets a sense of seeing something new in each stage. Still, some ideas make proceedings simply too difficult and further highlight the fact that the controls aren’t perfect. For example, one can destroy certain enemies with explosives, but this can only be achieved by first walking over these platforms and then clicking on them again to set a timer. Taking into account that the enemies move pretty fast and one has to do more click-work than necessary, restarts are common. Even more aggravating are performance problems the game showed in various levels, resulting in situations when animations were skipped and the precise timing necessary was made redundant.
For a casual puzzle game, there are way too many instances when pixel-perfect movement saves the day more than lateral thinking. Granted, there’s a rewarding bonus system which can give the player extras to make the levels easier or skip them altogether. But the unnecessary difficulty spikes are annoying nonetheless. One can even crank up the difficulty by completing levels as quickly as possible and pick up additional gems along the way, which rewards bronze, silver or gold medals at the end. These provide the player with coins, a currency which can then be used to unlock specials like energy boosts or offer the chance to skip levels. Of course, this system is also flawed, because those who are in desperate need for some help will most likely not be able to be so fast (although one can make some IAPs to get the fake money for real money). And those who like to better themselves in the score-attack-way won’t make use of these options anyway.
Visual excellence and auditory perceptions
Despite the aforementioned technical difficulties, the game looks quite good with interesting hand-sculpted stop-motion animated graphics and a distinct hand-drawn art style in the few still cutscenes. The soundtrack is also of high quality, even if the atmospheric tunes could have done with more variety. The same holds true for the level design. Except for the intermissions and the addition of more gameplay elements, the backgrounds are almost indistinguishable, making progression less motivating or rewarding for the player.
Innovation needs a more polished game
Kyttaro Games’ Droidscape: Basilica is a brave attempt to try something new in the puzzle-heavy mobile gaming market. To a certain degree, it succeeds in offering an interesting gameplay idea which only suffers from the high difficulty curve and control issues. It certainly has a unique style as well, but the way how the story is told is rather detached from the game itself. As it is, the game provides quite a lot of fun with many levels to complete.
Another plus is that the IAPs are not really necessary, so it’s no pay-to-win model, as one can easily buy it for 1,99 Dollars and be happy with the game. Although some more chapters seem to be added in the future. If they will just come with an update or require additional cash remains to be seen.
There’s also an experimental head tracking control system which might not be the easiest way to success, but it shows the developer’s ambition to innovate. If you’re still not sure if the gameplay suits you, why not try out the free Droid Arcade?
Buy the game on
the iTunes store
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