I love the App Store. On a single platform, I can draw from a well of my favorite classics like Doom ($4.99), and try out thousands games like N.O.V.A. 3 ($6.99) that take their inspiration from popular console and PC games but offer an experience tailor-made for tablets and smartphones. But what I enjoy most about the App Store is the chance to drop a buck or two on quirky titles you don’t see on any other platform. Take Rocket Fox (Free), for example, a new puzzle/platformer game starring a fox named Guy who loves fireworks. He loves them so much that he’s not content to admire them from afar like your average Fourth-of-July party-goer. No, Guy likes to hop aboard rockets before they blast off and ride them skyward. Of course, what goes up must come down, and that’s where you come in.
Each level begins with Guy slipping inside a large flower while a counter ticks down from three. Once the clock strikes zero, the camera flips to an overhead view, the flower bursts open, and Guy, mounted on a rocket, shoots up to the clouds. Seconds later, his rocket blows apart in a torrent of colors, and Guy begins to freefall. From here, you tilt your iPhone to guide Guy away from the hard earth and watery depths, and toward trampoline-like flower pads. Flower pads come in different colors and designs that denote their functions. Red flowers give you a slight boost, blue ones throw you up even higher, and yellow pads give a breathtaking view of surrounding topography. Flowers can only be used once before withering away, leaving you to find the next one by the time Guy starts hurtling back down once again.
Because flower pads sit on lands of different heights and distances, you have to choose which flower pads to land on and in which order. Do you use a yellow pad first, which will send you soaring high and afford a breathtaking view of the sprawling topography? Or should you leave it and bop around the red pads first, since those ones won’t lend enough momentum to cross the water to the other isle where more flowers await? Other levels ask you to fly high enough to drop through flower rings, find and land on a level-winning finale flower, use flower rockets that fire off explosives on impact, and more.
The appearance of rocket flowers brought about a distinct and pleasant shift in Rocket Fox‘s pace. Rocket flowers don’t shoot arbitrarily; an arrow blinking in one corner reveals which direction the rocket will fly when you land. Rockets destroy the first flower they come into contact with, but they also cause closed flowers to blossom into new launching pads. Figuring out which flowers to clear away so rockets wouldn’t blast them into charred petals en route to closed pads I needed to crack open, coupled with making split-second decisions during brief airborne periods and the addition of new elements like rockets that send you shooting forward, shifted the game’s pace from soporific to an intense brainteaser that rewards quick thinking and skill.
Upping the tension and satisfaction of a good plan coming to fruition are a few risk-reward factors thrown into the mix on each level. Players are graded according to factors such as the time they took to finish a level. As you grow in skill, you’ll find yourself tempted to make use of the dive button in the lower-right corner of the screen. With a touch, Guy stiffens like an arrow and streaks toward the ground headfirst, giving you no further chance to alter his direction but shaving several seconds off your record once you grow comfortable enough to use it from great heights. That, and it just reeks of style.
Another temptation comes in the form of Fox Fire, colored flames that spit out of flower pads each time you collide with one, swirling around Guy like leaves caught up in a gust of wind. You can tap flames to collect them, then use them to buy items that slow your descent, increase your buoyancy, and grant you a second chance should you accidentally take a nosedive into earth or sea. But, each item lasts only a single turn. Whether you win on your next turn or slip up and have to try again, you lose your power-ups. More importantly, collecting flames means tearing your eyes away from pressing concerns like landing on flowers instead of carving fox-shaped holes in the ground.
Fortunately, flames don’t disappear, so you can wait until you have more airtime than usual (say, after hitting a yellow pad) to frantically claw at your screen then give your attention back to Guy’s disagreements with gravity. And, although items do help, I never once felt like I needed one, even on the more trying stages. The only significant mark against Rocket Fox is that most levels must be solved in a particular way. Perform one move out of order and you’ll likely run out of flower pads and end up back at the retry screen. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the game takes several seconds to load between attempts, then makes you sit through Guy’s three-second launch countdown, totaling to almost ten seconds of downtime between each gaffe. You’re bound to play later levels many, many times before completing them, so keeping relevant data loaded in memory to expedite attempts would have been welcome.
Don’t think twice about tagging along with Guy as he journeys to and from the stars in a journey crafted from charming storybook graphics and a unique twist on puzzle games that only a platform as diverse as the App Store can provide. Rocket Fox is free with a single $1.99 unlock, but by the time you hit that pay wall you’ll know for sure whether or want you go the rest of the way. I think you will.