It's been almost four years since the original They Need To Be Fed [$0.99] made its way from PCs to iOS. We at TouchArcade liked it a lot when we reviewed it then, and when its follow-up appeared on the App Store last year, we liked that one a lot, too. Well, just last week, Bit Ate Bit released They Need To Be Fed 3 [$1.99], and it's no surprise that I like it a lot. I'm sure nobody was expecting them to punt on this when they've got the formula down, though, so the bigger question is whether, with a shorter span of time between sequels, Bit Ate Bit was able to up the ante the way they did with the second game.
In a lot of ways, this third installment in the series has an awful lot in common with its immediate predecessor. It's to the extent that unless someone was quite familiar with both games, they'd be hard-pressed to tell which one was which in a side-by-side comparison. The premise is the same as previous games. You have to guide your little character across a stage to reach a hungry plant monster who will promptly eat the little guy. The stages are made up of free-floating objects that each possess their own gravity, and if your character enters the gravity of one of the objects, he'll get pulled into it. As such, you cannot fall to your death, as you're always bound to one object or another. The challenge comes from making your way across these objects without hitting anything that will evaporate you, but it's easier said than done.
Since you're bound to the object, you can run all the way around it, upside-down and along its sides. It gets a bit confusing trying to remember which directional button will move you the way you want to go, especially in the heat of the moment. There's a lot of heat this time around, too. If you thought They Need To Be Fed 2 [$1.99] was tough, you're really in for it here. This game gets fairly sadistic early on, and that's not even taking the unlockable X levels or the returning Epic mode into account. As you make your way through the levels, you need to collect diamonds to unlock later worlds, and while that's usually pretty trivial to do as you make your way through the stage anyway, the level designers do sometimes have a bit of fun at your expense. Unlocking the X levels requires you to obtain three keys in each world, which are found in the levels. Usually this involves picking up a small key near the end of a stage and backtracking to open up a new section. You then need to safely bring that big key to the end of the level for it to count.
Adding to the challenge, when you collect an item, you need to at least survive to the next checkpoint with it to keep it. In the previous game, you could do a kamikaze run to collect an item, comforted in the knowledge that you would simply respawn with it and could continue on your merry way. There's no such luck this time, so you'll have to do it properly or not at all. Fortunately, the game still gives you infinite lives, quick respawns, and frequent checkpoints, so while it can be extremely frustrating at times, it's as fair about that as you could hope for. If the game's regular assortment of more than 50 stages isn't enough for you, the Epic mode returns from the second game. To unlock it, you'll need to collect all the diamonds in the regular stages, and if you found it tough last time, you're going to find it near-impossible here. The stages are flipped, tons of new dangers are added in, and there are no checkpoints at all. I still haven't finished these stages, and it's very likely I never will.
Perhaps as a peace offering, the big new addition this time is the Adventure mode. It's a more laid back, non-linear romp where you have to explore to find the items certain creatures are looking for. If you find the item and bring it back, they'll open up a route to new areas, all in one big, interconnected map. It's a little too directionless for my liking, but it's certainly a nice little thing to chew on to come down from the aggravation of the regular modes. It's nice to see the developer go so far as to add something like this when nobody would have blinked an eye if he left it out. Let's hope it gets built on in future games so that it become something more than a piece of side-content.
While the game appears visually very similar to the previous game, the level designs have an almost completely new bag of tricks. Typically, each new world introduces one new gimmick, though some worlds will toss a couple of new things out there. The gimmick is introduced in a relatively low-danger situation, and then the world piles on the danger and complexity stage after stage. Some of them work better than others, but they ensure that you will constantly be doing new things as you go along, keeping you on your toes and engaged with the game through to its bitter end. You'll also want to keep your eyes open for secret paths, because this game has quite a few of them, many giving you an easier way through some very difficult sections.
As before, the game has a nice, upbeat soundtrack that tries to help you keep both a good pace and a calm heart. There is also Game Center support for achievements that will require you to thoroughly master the game to complete. Not only do you need to clear all the stages in every mode, finding every diamond and golden key, you also need to uncover the hidden golden bean in each world, and do each stage without dying. It's certainly enough for even the toughest platform fan to tangle with.
The problems are the same as with the previous installments, which is to say that while the simple, three-button virtual controls are responsive and set up well, it's harder to wrap one's brain around which direction you're going to be running when you hit each button. Jumping is also a bit tricky, since you can't be quite sure at which precise point you'll get pulled into the next object's gravity, making timed jumps around deadly objects all the more dangerous. The increased difficulty might also be a negative for some people, though I can easily see it as a positive for others. It's certainly something to be aware of, either way.
If you're new to the series, I'd actually recommend checking out They Need To Be Fed 2 first, since it's a bit more friendly in its difficulty progression and it's not missing anything important that you would find here. If you've played a game in this series before and enjoyed it, then you'll want to go ahead and pick this one up right now. It perhaps bites off a little bit more than a player's brain can chew from time to time, but it's not like the App Store is drowning in difficult, high-quality platforming games, and it's pretty easy to be won over by They Need To Be Fed 3's charms.
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