There have been quite a few “go-as-far-as-you-can" games in the App Store, but the majority of them have taken Canabalt’s cue and stuck to the side-scrolling platformer style. Vivid Games’ Mower Ride [99¢] takes that same idea and applies it to a top-down vertical racer — with a lawnmower.
Taking most of its gameplay cues from old Amiga style racers, Mower Ride really just wants you to drive as far as you can without running out of energy. Along the way you’ll run into plenty of obstacles that slow your progress, including other lawnmower racers bent on pushing you off the track.
The core of the game requires you to snag up energy blocks to keep you mowing forward, but there are also a few different power-ups scattered along the way to help you out, including a magnet that attracts energy and a speed and invisibility power-up that rockets you ahead. To knock the other lawnmower out of the race, you simply need to ram into them by tilting the device forward, or force them into a tight spot.
Which actually brings up the games main fault. Since it’s entirely tilt controlled, it suffers from the same thing that all tilt control games do, namely the calibration process. The game calibrates your accelerometer at the moment you start the race, so if you’re not in a good position, you’ll have wonky controls. Thankfully, if you hit the pause button it’ll automatically recalibrate. It’s not a big deal, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re playing. Even though it’s a universal app, it works better on smaller devices for this same reason — unless you really enjoy tilting the iPad around. All that said, the tilt controls, when properly calibrated, work surprisingly well.
The premise alone should be enough to warrant frequent playthoughs, after all, Mower Ride hopes to tap into the same part of your brain that Canabalt did, namely the obsessive compulsive high score part. But let’s be clear here, other than that, the two aren’t similar. Mower Ride features enemies, power-ups and even an in-game economy to help you glitz out your lawnmower with prepackaged power-ups called boosters. These boosters drastically alter gameplay — I tripled my distance with the first one, which gives you ten of the rocket bonuses to use. It’s a bit unbalanced, but since everyone should eventually rack up enough coins it’ll likely balance out in time.
The tracks are randomized, but I don’t think they’re randomly generated. Either way, you don’t know exactly what to expect each time you load it up. You’ll be racing your mower through cartoon suburban backyards, plowing into people’s swimming pools and slides along the way. A front-end collision doesn’t spell game over, but it does take a bit off your energy bar and you’ll be able to continue racing as long as your lawnmower has energy, regardless of how many obstacles you hit.
You’ll be comparing your distance to other racers through Game Center, which also packs in a few easy-to-snag achievements. If you have friends playing you’ll see their high scores marked on each map as you race along, but other than that there is no direct head-to-head gameplay, which is too bad, because it seems like the formula would work out well if implemented correctly.
In the end, Mower Ride is a simple, arcade-style game that should appeal to a wide variety of high-score fans. It has a surprising amount of production value for a game of its type, most of the objects are animated, the character deaths feature amusing flying people and the shadows from clouds and planes add a nice touch. It’s not exactly the deepest racer in the world, but it maintains its focus and adds an easy to pickup distraction for fans of the genre.