Galaxy Express [99¢/Free] from Arctic Empire is a strategy game which involves navigating your spacecraft around a 9 x 12 grid, to deliver mail to the destination planet. Instead of steering controls, you're given a limited supply of direction-arrows to place within the grid. Once you're happy with the positioning of your arrows, you simply tap the START button and watch your craft journey along the chosen route.
If you've got it right, your craft will navigate around all the obstacles and will reach the planet to deliver the mail, successfully. And the fewer arrows you use, the better your score. But, if your craft is shot, rammed by an alien, sucked into a black-hole or stuck in an endless-loop, you simply shift some arrows around and tap START to try again. You can choose the gameplay speed, from 1x to 8x velocity, which helps speed up your multiple attempts. This game is about trial-and-error, so there's no lives to lose and no timers. You just keep trying until your strategy works and the mail eventually gets through.
We've seen this type of route-planning game before, with titles like Cat Physics [99¢] and ChuChu Rocket! [$2.99/HD] (although that has real-time placement of arrows, whereas here the course is plotted pre-launch). However, Arctic Empire keeps it interesting by providing 120 levels (including 15 bonus levels) with cut-scenes every 5 levels, which are amusing. New levels are unlocked five at a time and new game-play mechanics, objects and enemies are gently introduced throughout the game, with tutorials, to ramp up the difficulty and to keep your interest.
One of the best features in Galaxy Express is that each level displays the "fewest arrows used" by any online user. This means that once you've celebrated finally completing a level with five arrows, you can discover someone else managed to do it with one. It's challenging to match the top online performers. The game has Game Center rankings for "Arrows saved" plus achievements.
Sometimes it's actually smarter to place NO arrow, because if your craft reaches a barrier, it will automatically turn 90 degrees clockwise, saving you a move. If your ship can't turn clockwise because of an obstacle, it will turn anti-clockwise and if still stuck, it resorts to moving backwards. These automated navigational reactions can be taken into consideration when plotting your course.
The enemy has ships too, which move around the level. Sometimes they pass over your arrows and will turn accordingly, often using up an arrow you planned for yourself. However, you can use this to your advantage, by strategically placing arrows to send a troublesome enemy away. This allows you to focus on the asteroids, walls, black-holes, spaceships, space cannons and space-bombs.
The early levels of Galaxy Express felt too easy and I often slammed down arrows without much thought. But once you reach harder levels and try to match the best scores (fewest arrows used), it becomes far more challenging and provides plenty of replay value. The developers are currently working on a level editor, for release later this year. Players will be able to create custom levels, share them with other Galaxy Express players, craft challenges, and peruse a free marketplace of levels selected by the Arctic Empire team.
While reviewing this game, it did crash periodically on my iPad. However fellow reviewer Nissa Campbell played without incident and the developers have not encountered the crashes and can't replicate them. This didn't stop me from completing over 50 levels. To be fair to the developers, this problem could be specific to my device.