New from Kristanix Studios is Zamby [App Store], an adventure-puzzle game in a vein similar to Adventures of Lolo for the NES. With graphics that look something like a high resolution 8-bit game, Zamby sports a nice retro feel. After some extensive time with the game, I can report with confidence that not only does Zamby get the feel of old-school retro puzzlers right, but it also backs up its classic visuals with puzzle designs and gameplay that can entertain for hours.
Zamby is a slighty creepy little creature called a “Qwonk." Qwonks depend on a special type of crystal to light up the caverns that serve as their homes, and the crystal stash is starting to get quite low. Zamby has volunteered to brave the dangers of the outside world in a quest for crystals, and this is where the player comes in. In each of the 40 included levels Zamby’s goal is to collect all of the shiny blue crystals scattered about. There are three level packs total which sell for 99¢ each, when you buy the “full" version of Zamby, the first level pack is included. Alternatively, you can try Zamby Free [App Store] and if you decide you like it, add the level pack from the “full" version for 99¢ and optionally purchase the other two.
While Zamby has a very similar look and feel to an 8-bit top-down adventure game, it actually falls more closely in line with the puzzle genre. There are numerous threats to Zamby in each level, the most common and basic of which being the wizard. Wizards will shoot a deadly fireball at our one-eyed hero the moment he steps into their line of sight (which is horizontal and vertical only), so there is no way to outrun their attacks. Crafty players will quickly discover that they can push boxes in between themselves and the wizards, effectively stopping the wizards from ever seeing Zamby and attacking.
Other enemies include the spider, which work just like the Wizard except for the fact that they move every time Zamby moves, Medusas, which will turn Zamby into stone should he face them, knights, which hop around the levels in an identical pattern to knight pieces from chess, and trolls/minotaurs, which will try to catch the player. The various enemies, the ever-present boxes (which can be pushed in water to form temporary bridges), and bombs (which can be picked up by Zamby and deployed to destroy obstructions or fling boxes across a level) combine to provide unique and challenging puzzles in every level.
The puzzles in Zamby are designed well, but some frustration can be caused by the controls. There are two methods to moving Zamby: touching the corners of the screen (either top, left, right, or bottom) to move him in that direction, or the virtual D-Pad. Touching the corners of the screen doesn’t work very well since players will inadvertently be obscuring their own view of the play field, and while the virtual D-Pad is better, it’s also a bit annoying due to its small size. You’ll find yourself accidentally moving Zamby in the wrong direction at least once in every level, sometimes leading the little blue critter to a crispy doom.
Luckily, there is an “undo" button available without limitations to players, so frustrating deaths can be easily avoided. The game world is designed around an invisible grid, and all objects in the world are limited to existing in only one square at a time on that grid. The grid is invisible by default, but players are given the option to make it pop into view if they feel that they need it to figure out their options movement-wise.
Also coming to the aid of less-skilled players is the “solution" button available via the in-game menu. Touching this button will allow Zamby‘s A.I. take over and the game will begin to solve the puzzle for players, moving their blue avatar across the screen, pushing all the right boxes in all the right places and collecting all of the crystals. While some might cry foul at a mode that essentially plays the game for those too lazy to solve a puzzle, I’d like to point out that it’s a completely optional feature that can be quite useful as a teaching tool for those who don’t fully understand the game’s ruleset.
There are no online options or any multiplayer features to speak of, but I feel that Zamby is more or less a complete experience. The 40 levels included with the initial download are more than enough to keep most players occupied for a large chunk of time, and the pricing on the two optional level packs is quite reasonable for the amount they extend Zamby’s play time. I wish the control scheme felt just a little bit tighter, but I’m not sure that the developers can really do much to improve on what they already have. If you’re a fan of well-designed, thought-provoking puzzle games and you can appreciate some retro-styled NES-grade graphics, Zamby might very well be what you’ve been looking for.