Update: Glu reports that this game was supposed to launch for free and not $2.99 as it did. Glu is planning on keeping the App free. The review was written when the game was priced at $2.99. Early adopters can contact Glu for a free promo code as compensation.
Glu Mobile’s latest foray into the App Store is a cheeky physics puzzler featuring what is essentially, traditional pinball mechanics à la Peggle. What Escape from Nom [App Store] does differently though, is that it supplements its standard levels with a comprehensive level editor and allows your creations to be shared online — but with a few deal-breaking catches.
The core gameplay in Escape from Nom involves getting Alan, a colored blob at the top of the screen, to the pool of colored goop at the bottom. Key to this endeavor is that Alan must be the same color as the goop when he touches it (or the level fails), and he has to avoid being eaten by the evil Noms along the way. To help Alan are a number of tools either fixed on the level already, or able to be dragged onto the level from your expandable toolbox at your discretion.
Continuing the pinball theme, bumpers, paddles, shunters and teleporters make up the range of tools at your disposal; each gradually unlocked as you progress through the game’s paltry 30 levels (with a further 20 levels and the teleporter tool purchasable In-App for $1.99). Taking a leaf from Peggle’s book, Escape from Nom also allows you to fine-tune where Alan is dropped through a scroll wheel at the bottom of the screen. In this way you can set up your drops precisely (aided with the help of a double-tap zoom feature) and line Alan up perfectly– a necessary feat for some of the more complex levels.
Compounding the difficulty are the Noms themselves, large creatures that can be static or motionary, but are always hungry. The only way that Alan can get by them is by either avoiding them entirely, or by touching a bumper of the same color as the target Nom– changing Alan’s color and enabling Alan to pass through the Nom without harm. The need for particular colors, precision bounces, avoiding obstacles and eventually Portal-esque teleporting, equates to a routine of trial and error gameplay as you experiment to achieve the desired outcome. The colorful graphics and catchy jingles in Escape from Nom all serve to add to that fun-factor.
Unfortunately what wasn’t as fun were the in-app ads that pervaded each level’s loading and result screens. From my understanding these iAds will only presently show up for U.S. users, so whilst not all users will experience them, for those that do they are an eyesore that I’m certainly not happy about in an app already paid for. That doesn’t appear to be the worst of it, though.
Possibly Escape from Nom’s most exciting feature was the level editor; a simple but powerful tool that enables users to fully re-create any of the included mission packs. It’s easy to use and testing and saving your levels is a breeze, though uploading them does require Facebook. So why Glu Mobile chose to further monetize their most anticipated feature is beyond us– yes, you have to pay to download other users’ creations. For $0.99 you are given 30 credits, which allows you to download 30 levels that others have made. And there is no way to preview each level either. After purchasing a level, it can be rated and recommended to other users, but the simple fact that you are largely in the dark about your purchase is still unnerving.
Ultimately, what Escape from Nom amounts to is a baffling corporate experiment that has tarnished an otherwise fun action puzzler. Beyond the initial purchase price (see update above), asking users to swallow pervasive iAd in-game advertising, an initial level offering that can be finished in an hour or so, a further 20 level expansion pack for $1.99 and then still charging them for user-created levels seems absurd.
Update: The game has dropped to Free from $2.99 for the day, successfully pissing off early adopters who paid full price in that early launch window.
(In-App Level Purchases, In-App Advertising and Paid User-Creations)