Sports games tend to go in one of a few different directions. Some of them opt for hard realism, trying to capture every nuance of the sport in a very clinical way. The aim here is to try to give the player the exact feeling of playing the sport. Others go the route of Tony Hawk, where it's kind of realistic in some ways, but fantastical in others. These games are cool because you're usually following the rules of the sport, but it makes you feel like you're a superhuman player. Another way to go is to pitch out any pretenses of reality and just go wild. The familiar surface gives something for the players to connect to, but the end result usually feels less like a sports game and more like another genre. Endless Surf [$0.99], the sequel to Bobble Surfer [$0.99] is from the latter school of thought. Looking at screenshots, you would think this was a Tony Hawk-style take on surfing, but it's actually pretty much a straight-forward runner with an interesting skin.
The goal in Endless Surf is to last as long as you can, racking up points while avoiding hazards. The game keeps track of both your distance and your score for each of the two stages, and there's also a free surf mode that allows you to surf, well, endlessly. Like many infinite runners, there are various goals to beat during gameplay, which will increase your rank. Achieving certain ranks will unlock new boards and board types that you can choose while customizing your character. There's not much more to Endless Surf than that, apart from competing on the leaderboards.
The controls are about as simple as can be. You don't need to steer your surfer at all. Rather, you can touch and hold the screen to move your surfer up, and release it to move down. Tapping the screen while you're in the air will do a 360 trick, and a button on the bottom left corner of the screen allows you to slow down. Much of your movement is out of your control, but that kind of makes sense given the topic matter. Since you basically have no easy way of going in a straight line, you'll be bobbing up and down on the screen doing your own impression of a wave. There are hazards on the playfield in the form of sharks and buoys, both of which will end your run unless you're carrying a heart power-up, but the biggest hazard is of course the wave itself. If you go too slowly, the barrel of the wave will catch up to you and swallow you whole.
There are a bunch of things scattered around that you can pick up. Stars will add to your score, and if you can collect a pattern of stars in one fell swoop, you'll get a really nice bonus. Hearts allow you to take one hit, and are fairly generously sprinkled throughout the levels. Collecting a lightning bolt will cause a storm to move in, which will temporarily give you a 2x score multiplier. There are also balloons to pop, which I think just adds to your score and helps extend your combo. There's no persistent currency or anything like that to pick up, and you can't upgrade your surfer's abilities, so the game is really all about improving your own skill and mastery to pull out increasingly higher scores and distances.
This makes Endless Surf a weird sort of hybrid. There are certainly elements of more familiar trick-based sports games in here. You'll want to chain moves and combos to boost up your score, for example. At the same time, though, it very much has the feeling of a typical endless runner to it, where you're trying to survive by hook or crook. These goals are often at odds with each other, so you're probably better off focusing on one or the other while playing. I found going for scores to be a lot more fun than going for distances, for whatever it's worth. Even though it's a bit hard to put your finger on the collision of dangerous objects, it's easy enough to give them a fairly wide berth most of the time. If you focus on surviving, it's actually a lot easier than most runners, but racking up points without smashing into anything is a whole other matter.
The look of the game isn't very complex, but the water looks really nice and things stand out the way they should. It certainly looks a lot better than its predecessor, with the surfer actually looking like they fit in with the backgrounds. I also like the more realistic style of the surfer. The game moves very smoothly, which is vital for this genre. There are only two different stages, so you won't get a lot of variety in backgrounds, but it's a surfing game, so you're going to be looking at water most of the time anyway. For music, they've opted to go with a very stereotypical surfing tune. It certainly fits well enough, but they need to either add more music or make the existing track a bit longer, because it really does get monotonous after a while. Luckily, you can turn the music off and listen to your own tunes.
Endless Surf is a pretty enjoyable runner with a unique, well-integrated theme. It's a bit lacking in gameplay variety, and there's no real meta-game past the Game Center leaderboards to make up for that. Still, it is a bit of an unusual spin on the infinite runner, and I really dig the surf motif. Plus, it's always nice to play a runner that steps away from the currency-grind/IAP model. I don't think this is a must-play or anything, but if you're into the surfing theme or really love endless runners, this is a pretty sound one, if not all that exciting.
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