148714_largerTake a look at that cute icon, check out those colorful screenshots, listen to that whimsical music. What kind of game would you expect Whirl the Squirrel [$0.99] to be? Unless you answered a punch in the face with brass knuckles, I'm afraid you don't win the kewpie doll. What, one of you did? Go away, kid, you're bothering me. Anyway, back to what I was saying. This game represents one of the more jarring mismatches of theme and difficulty I've come across in quite some time, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, Whirl the Squirrel goes perhaps a little too far.

When starting Whirl the Squirrel, you are treated to a pretty adorable little opening movie that sets up the game. Basically, some bad guys called Nenemies have jacked Whirl's material possessions, and he needs to outrace them to get his stuff back. The characters are all very nicely designed. Whirl and the Nenemies are very cute, with a ton of personality. In fact, the art is really beautiful all around in this game. The stages are incredibly colorful, though there are only three different visual themes. Everything looks like it belongs, with none of the visual inconsistencies that can be found in too many other games. That "everything" proves to be a bit of a double-edged sword, but more on that later.

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I'm happy to report that although the great majority of what you will be doing in this game involves running, this is not an endless runner. You have full control over going left or right using some very comfortable on-screen buttons. There's also a button that allows you to jump, or if pressed twice rapidly, stomp the ground. Like other video game rodents, Whirl is a pretty speedy little guy, and by collecting flowers found in the levels, he becomes even faster. Fortunately, he's always really easy to control, and I can't say I ever had any frustrations with making him do what I wanted him to, apart from a little funny business involving his stomps when I pressed the button too many times.

Goals vary from level to level, but most of the stages involve making it to the finish line before a certain amount of time runs out. This is sometimes framed as a race against a Nenemy, but it will run the same route every time, so you're really just racing the clock. The levels are huge and full of obstacles, and the margin of error on the clock is razor-thin. It's very hard to win these stages on your first try. You'll have to learn the stages first, and then execute them nearly perfectly. These straightforward racing missions comprise around twelve of the game's eighteen stages. They're tough, but there are worse things lurking out there in Whirl the Squirrel.

mzl.sozxjyfsThe other six stages still keep you moving pretty fast, but they're a little bit more complicated than just getting from point A to point B. In them, you are tasked with collecting a certain number of flowers. In one type, you'll need to collect the right amount and reach the goal, and in the other, you simply need to collect enough flowers before the clock runs out. The first time you'll encounter this type of level is stage three, very early on in the game. Looking at it on paper, it's not a very hard stage. You mostly go from one side to the other, dropping down at each side to collect flowers, and there are more than enough flowers to make your goal. Yet, I suspect this is where Whirl the Squirrel will end for most people who buy the game.

You see, you can lose the flowers you've collected in two ways. First, if you touch a Nenemy or other trap, you'll lose ten flowers. Second, if you collect a blob item, you will lose one flower. If you take two hits from a Nenemy, you might as well reset, because you aren't going to make it. As for the blobs, where there are flowers there are blobs surrounding them, particularly on the long drops. The last drop demands an absurd amount of precision and as a result, you will most likely end up losing more flowers than you gain. The whole stage, in fact, demands near-perfection in execution, a ridiculous notion given that this is stage three.

I eventually cleared it, but I had to memorize the stage first. The developer tries to put a lot of visual cues in so that you theoretically jump over things and avoid them even if you don't know they're coming, but the game moves incredibly fast and the art style causes things to blend in a little too well. As a result, you're going to have to remember where the Nenemies are, where the flowers and blobs are, and where the jumping points are, because heaven help you if you make a couple of mistakes. There are secret paths and items that stop the clock to offer a bit of relief if you can find them. Races are slightly more forgiving than these flower stages, and the later flower stages aren't nearly as nasty as the first one, but make no mistake about it, this game is quite difficult, and not always in a fun way.

As a result of the overall high difficulty, the games meager eighteen stages don't go by quite as fast as you think they might. There is no IAP or currency to buy your way past a stage you're stuck on, so you're going to have to get it done the old-fashioned way, and that will take time. When it's not being frustrating, Whirl the Squirrel is actually a very fun, well-made game. The graphics are great, though they could use some touching up to make certain hazards a bit more clear, and the controls are really responsive. If you can get over the early difficulty hump, the rest of the game is more enjoyably sadistic, as some members of our forum will gladly attest to. It's just too bad that most people aren't going to see anything past stage three.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Dioxis Mining

    Hi everyone, Dioxis Mining here, developer of Whirl the Squirrel. I
    want to thank Shaun and TouchArcade for the review, and the TouchArcade community for all their great feedback. It's helped make Whirl a better game. I'm currently about to submit an update to Apple that will address all the issues with level difficulty discussed above (especially 1-3), along with introducing a "skip level" button (it will be free, don't worry. No IAP!), and other great changes. I hope the Shaun and the TouchArcade team will be willing to do a quick it's-not-SMB-hard-anymore re-review once the update is out ^_^ Have fun with the game everyone. Thanks again.

  • Smokey956

    BORINGGGG!!!!!!!

  • Barfly

    I bought this game on launch day, and i don't really understand what all the fuss about the difficulty is really about - this is one of the most polished games on iOS, and it's from an indie developer!! I guess people just don't want a challenge anymore... Whirl has a ton of replay value, graphics are stunning, and the control is flawless. With a couple tweaks to make it more accessible for non-hardcore gamers (read: my grandma), this should be a must-buy for anyone with thumbs!

    • Shaun James Musgrave

      I love a good challenge. I'm from the Famicom/NES generation, so I was raised on a healthy diet of Ninja Gaiden, Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Gradius, and Castlevania, and love playing games like Devil May Cry, DDP Daioujou, and Metal Slug 3 on their highest difficulties. The difference, in my opinion, between those and Whirl is a matter of the curve. They're brutally hard games, but they teach you the mechanics before they start ramping it up.

      In Whirl, Level 1-3 is the first level of its type and it's easily one of the harder levels of the game. It's not really fair or fun to run people into a wall so early on. Teach the player, then challenge them. I do think if you're patient enough to persevere on that stage and move on, you'll find something really good here, but I also think many, many people are going to be (in my opinion) rightfully frustrated at hitting that kind of difficulty so early on and will simply give up.

      I agree with a few tweaks, there's something very good here (I'd have been a lot less kind than a 3/5 otherwise), but unfortunately, I had to review reality, not potential. Here's hoping Dioxis can strike the right balance with the update, because I think the challenge of the races is about right for the most part and are a positive point of the game.

      • Barfly

        That's fair Shaun. I'm sure the developer will get things sorted out. I'll be a little sad to update though, if it means i'll lose some of the challenge. But, I guess that's what new level updates are for! Game on!!!

      • Dioxis Mining

        Excellent points, Shaun. Thanks. And thanks Barfly. I'm glad you like it.

        Along with fixing up 1-3 to be much more accessible, I've incorporated a lot of feedback from the TouchArcade user forums in the upcoming update to make the learning curve more gradual (especially World 1 levels):
        - 1-1 is now purely a tutorial level with no time limit. Just a place to have fun and learn how to play.
        - Controls have been tightened up a little, especially on the iPad.
        - The new skip level button will help players if they encounter a frustrating level and want to come back to it later.
        -The orange blob is gone, replaced with a much more obviously evil object so people know not to touch it.
        - I've also gone through every level, tweaking small parts for usability, watching what other people have had trouble with in videos, and increasing the amount of time available in many levels to make it more accessible.

        After this update is out, I'll be making a new one with new levels and new features for everyone. I'll let you know when the update is out, Shaun.

      • Shaun James Musgrave

        Thanks, Dioxis. For what it's worth, I think there's a lot to love in this game, it's just the one or two areas that don't work really hurt the overall package. I love to hear that you're reading everyone's feedback and making changes. And I also hope we someday see a Whirl 2 that really knocks it out of the park.

      • Dioxis Mining

        Thanks, Shaun. I appreciate it. And more is in the works even beyond the update. I intend to fully support this title and keep updating it with new, great content for everyone to enjoy. Talk to you soon.

  • Gil Ansh

    I found some of the "collecting" levels difficult, but I pressed on and felt very accomplished when I did finally defeat them. Can't have pleasure without a bit of pain! lol. It gives the game great replay value. Looking forward to the update so I can play the game over again!!! (I've already played through the game about 5 times...extremely fun, I love it, recommending it to everyone I know!)

    Shaun, I am curious: if some of the difficult levels were balanced better, would you have rated this game 4/5?

    • Shaun James Musgrave

      Gil, I can't say for sure without playing the hypothetical game, but as my main complaint involved the difficulty curve, the score would certainly be higher. By how much, I don't know.

  • Nick Litzow

    Is it just me, or does "whirl the squirrel" sound like a euphemism for a certain solo activity?

Whirl the Squirrel Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3