This past week Bravo Games, who brought us Touch Racing Nitro, released Volcano Escape [App Store], a game that combines elements of several different genres to create what’s best described as an “endless platformer" title.
As the game starts off, you choose one of six different characters to play, some of whom are locked initially, and one who is a $0.99 download as he sports five lives (two extra). And then that character is pitched into an active volcano. Luckily, the volcano in question is arrayed with platforms the whole way down. You land on the bottom platform, just above a pool of lava, but there’s no time to gather your wits — the lava is rising. The task at hand is to flee the molten menace by escaping upwards, jumping from platform to platform as nimbly as possible.
Complicating your flight are various tiki men and monsters that you must avoid or kill, and in the higher reaches of the volcano you’ll need to use their blasted corpses as floating platforms to continue your ascent. Luckily there are various weapons and power-ups such as spring-loaded boots and even rocket packs to help you along the way — but watch out, some of the items you’ll find can do you harm.
One might assume that the driven ascent mechanic would require small, simplistic platform arrangements. And, if the developer’s goal were to create a relatively easy game, it would. But Volcano Escape is definitely not an easy game, but one requiring serious skill to rank on the online leaderboard. A significant portion of the challenge in the game is due to the elaborate platform arrangements and the various types of platforms you’ll encounter. In addition to nice, solid slabs of stone, you’ll find rocks that crumble, hinged surfaces, slabs of fire, and even bear traps. These you must quickly identify and negotiate, all while the searing lava rises to meet you. And, as mentioned previously, at times there are sections without platforms that must be traversed with the help of corpses bobbing in the lava. It’s a daunting scenario, but at least you can double-jump and wall-jump like Mario. A nice touch is the random presentation of one of a few different platform arrangements when a new game is started, which helps to avoid monotony.
Volcano Escape borrows — and borrows well — from a number of games I can point to. Like Doodle Jump and its ilk, you are bound endlessly upward, but along the way you have to tap into your basic platformer skills. Unlike the typical endless jumping game, however, you set your own pace of ascent with the encroaching lava as a motivator, similar to the use of fluids in games like Flood and The Killing Game Show / Fatal Rewind.
I found the game highly challenging and extremely difficult to put down in the (many) hours I’ve spent with it over the last few days. But, in that time, I’ve identified a few areas that could use some improvement. One issue that is more noticeable as you’re just getting a feel for the game is the onscreen control placement. There are two D-pads in the lower corners of the screen, one for movement and one for aiming / firing. (The controls can be rendered invisible in the options screen.) The jump button is positioned on the right edge of the screen, about 60% of the way up towards the top, and that placement, initially at least, feels a bit awkward. An alternate control layout or, better, the ability to customize the control layout would be nice to see in an update.
The “2.5D" graphics in Volcano Escape look downright gorgeous on my iPhone 4’s Retina display, with all sorts of nice environmental effects like falling rocks and background tremors. But, perhaps due to its lavish scenery, the game suffers from frequent framerate studders on that device. In my experience, it doesn’t significantly get in the way of gameplay, but it is an annoyance, and is something I’ve heard echoed by folks in our forums.
Volcano Escape really does have a whole lot to offer. Its combination of play mechanics from various genres is beautifully executed, its challenge is immense, and it’s got just a whole lot of personality. There are a few issues that I hope will be addressed in a future update but, even so, I’d be quick to recommend Volcano Escape as a “don’t miss" title to any iPhone gamer that enjoys a steep challenge.
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