One hurdle when making games for the iOS platform is creating controls for an entirely touch screen interface. Often, the simplest approach is the best, and it doesn’t really get much simpler than single-tap gameplay. That is the approach taken in Space is Key [99¢] by ChrisJeff Games, which was recently released in the App Store. Space is Key started out as a popular Flash game, which is another platform that is well-suited to single-button mechanics. Because of this the game translates extremely well to iOS, and offers a fiendishly difficult but strangely captivating arcade experience.

Space is Key is a series of 43 single screen challenges distilled down to the basics of running and jumping. Your tiny square character handles the running part automatically, entering from either the right or left side of the screen. Your job is to tap the screen to jump at just the right times to clear the obstacles in each level and safely make it to the other side of the screen.

That may sound simple, but Space is Key is anything but. If your square so much as grazes an obstacle, you’re instantly killed. This is a game where you will die no matter what, and you will die often. There’s no avoiding it, and that’s really the point of the game. Your score is calculated as the amount of times that you end up dying after a straight run through all 43 levels. So yes, we're all going to die when playing the game, but let's see who can die the least.

The margin for error when trying to successfully navigate past obstacles is razor thin, and the difficulty can be erratic. A certain level you might completely nail in just a few short tries during one play through, then the next time that same level might take you a hundred tries or more (literally). This makes it difficult to get too excited even if you are doing particularly well, since it can all come crashing down at the drop of a hat, but that also adds an intensity to the game which I like.

This sort of masochistic gameplay ends up working because Space is Key is so darn quick and easy to play. Upon death, your restart is instantaneous and automatic, to the point that many times you haven’t even processed that you’ve screwed up before you’re already off and running into a new attempt. This means it's incredibly easy to just waste lives with reckless abandon when becoming particularly fixated with passing a certain level, and if you aren't careful, a potentially good score can slip away in the blink of an eye.

At first blush, Space is Key might look like nothing more than an early Atari 2600 title. That’s basically correct, but little flourishes like cool particle effects and a kick ass chiptune soundtrack give it a modern touch that would never been possible on that old hardware. Despite the retro aesthetic, the game has a lot of personality. This is mostly due to the humorous messages that pop up throughout the game that are designed to teach, praise, and pester you along the way.

The only downside to Space is Key is that it doesn’t have a whole lot of lasting appeal. I played it pretty obsessively for a few days until I’d achieved a decent score, but after that there’s not much reason to revisit it. A global leaderboard and 25 well designed Game Center achievements extend the experience, but I’d really like to see some more levels or possibly some additional modes down the line. Hints on the game's Facebook page lead me to believe that we'll see such things in the future.

While the gameplay on the whole is a bit thin, Space is Key is pretty entertaining for a 99¢ title. At times you’ll feel like breaking your device over your knee due to the difficulty, but completing the game is a fairly quick and satisfying experience. It’s hard to not want to keep replaying through the game hoping for that “one perfect run” where you get an insane score. As infuriating as it can be at times, when you do finally have a great run in Space is Key it makes all the pain worth it.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Pyrotechnic

    Having played the PC version, this game is so incredibly frustrating at times. A couple of levels made me want to chuck my computer screen over the balcony. On the rare rare times I did get a good run though, it felt amazing....till you crash into the next brick 1 second later!

    ^ PC flash version for the curious

  • Anonymous

    How does this review contain so many words with none of them being Chocorun? If there's one worthwhile comparison to be made, that is it.

    • John

      This game is FAR FAR closer to the impossible game, in fact it looks/feels like a bit-sized impossible game. Not to mention, if you are going to go back as far as choco-run, you may as well go farther back in iOS 'history', and name Above, which has the exact same controls as Chocorun. You just wanted to shout out a game you enjoy though, that's OK.

      • Anonymous

        Chocorun only came out last month, The Impossible Game is over a year old and has already been featured in a front page article. Let's keep up to date here.

      • John

        Who cares if it has been featured before? You think this is a popularity contest or something? If you want the author to do a comparison to strengthen the article, at least expect him name drop a game is actually similar in style and gameplay. You're giving the author a hard time for not mentioning a game, that has no reason to be mentioned, other than perhaps, "Oh, and derp before i finish this derp, chocorun came out a few derps ago and also features 1 button controls to derp your derp through the derp." 

      • Anonymous

        No, I'm talking about the fact this is a gaming website, and in general, readers come here to read about the latest games. There is a new game with significant similarites to this one, and by many accounts it's a great game, so it's worthy of mention and would fit well inside this article. This would provide readers with more information about similar games they might enjoy. What part of this incredibly basic journalistic formula do you fail to grasp? You can't derp your way out of this one, you just sound ridiculous.

      • John

        You are flaming the article, because you want Chocorun to be mentioned, even though it really has no relevance to the article. Gamers come here to read about the latest games, yes, but should he be mentioning every game that TA regulars feel are "unjustly" being left off the front page? Or should he just write an article, and not have to put up with your BS complaining that he isn't doing a good enough job. You tried to say that Chocorun is the most worthwhile comparison, i pointed out that it's not, actually the impossible game is the most close comparison. You want chocorun to be mentioned stop grasping for straws, not all games with single button jump mechanics need to be compared to Chocorun.

        Basic journalistic formula? Are you kidding? Go back to journalism school, clearly you are getting something mixed up.

      • Eli Hodapp

        The funny thing is that MidianGTX -does- write for a iOS game review site, but still comes here to tell us how we should be doing things.

      • Anonymous

        I don't know why you're always so intent on taking any side that isn't mine. I wasn't flaming the article so much as providing a bit of additional information for anyone who reads the comments. Chocorun is a good game, this is similar, so I pointed it out. No harm done there.

      • Anonymous

        tl;dr. If you consider that flaming you're too easily offended. The Impossible Game being similar doesn't mean it's the most worthwhile comparison. A worthwhile comparison would be something new and informative for the readers.

  • Anonymous

    Why are there 43 levels and not 45? The flash game has 15 levels, but that's because they're grouped into threes while on iOS each of the 3 counts as it's own level... considering there doesn't seem to be any (or much) difference between the two versions I think I'm gonna pass. I just sat here and finished the flash game within about 5 minutes with 248 deaths and I'd rather just play that one again than spend money on it.

  • Anonymous

    Another similar game, inexplicably removed from the App Store, is Rub-a-Dub HD [].

  • samuera

    love it!!

Space is Key Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 3.5