Attribite seems to have an obsession with food. But they also seem to love mashing up familiar ideas and coming away with great iOS games. Their first release was Save My Bacon (Free), an endless runner that takes the Tiny Wings ($1.99) tap-to-dive mechanic and tosses in some TNT and pigs with wings, and now they have the dairy-laden racing puzzle game 1968 ($0.99).
According to the Swedish studio Attribite, the United States sent a tiny little car up to the Moon in 1968—a year before the Apollo 11 mission—and found something unexpected: cheese. Like, the entire celestial body is cheese. (If their next two games aren’t about eggs and tortillas and they retroactively call this the Breakfast Taco series, I will burn something.) Now that little car has to traverse the strange, monochromatic landscape of the Moon to collect bright yellow cheese wedges.
The structure of the game is rather familiar in that you are presented with several worlds, each one containing multiple levels. In each level, you are given the chance to complete it to gain a rating between one and three stars. These stars unlock the worlds beyond “The Mooon” (with three Os) like K-Mars, Loopiter, and Uturn with more, presumably, on the way. If you don’t want to spend the time mastering each stage, though, there is a 99¢ in-app purchase available that unlocks everything.
The game itself plays like a strange amalgamation of RedLynx’s Trials HD and, well, any game that requires you to collect things. It comes across almost immediately as a puzzle game, but make no mistake: 1968 demands skill from you.
You’ll start out somewhere in the level and press the left or right side of the screen to accelerate in that direction. As you putter around, you’ll ascend ramps and clear gaps in an attempt to collect glowing cheese wedges before navigating your way to the flag. Your star rating is based on the time taken to complete the stage, but if you manage to do some flips in the air as you jump between things, you’ll knock whole seconds off of your end time.
Due to the lower lunar gravity, you tend to bounce around a lot more. If you land at a steep enough angle, regardless of your orientation, you will bounce. And it takes a lot less speed to clear huge gaps than you would think. These two facts combine to make 1968 a rather tough nut to crack, but in a (mostly) pleasant way. It took me a while to learn, but the lesson eventually sank in that this is not a game where you just jam on the gas and hope for the best. There are multiple levels, in fact, where you have to launch off into the black void and try to slot yourself into a tunnel or hole. It felt like I was driving a motorized golf ball, which, surprisingly, is a lot of fun.
Sometimes, though, certain jumps require all the speed you can muster, and that means you have to ride the loops and inverts and slopes as smoothly as possible. It’s an exhilarating feeling when you make just the right minute, midair adjustments to speed off a ledge, flip over, and ride a wall back down all in one fell swoop.
What’s less exciting, though, is when the car refuses to cooperate. To accelerate right, you press on the right side of the screen, and vice versa for going left. And to flip clockwise, you press right on the screen while pressing left flips you counter-clockwise. This seems all fine and dandy (and actually generates some interesting scenarios where you can get more flips in if you spin the direction opposite your acceleration), but when you get in a situation where you are resting on your bumper, righting yourself is one of the most frustrating things you can try to do.
It’s not exciting in a “oh man I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff” kind of way and more like you can’t figure out which way to put in the USB stick. You want to propel yourself towards the roof of the car so the tires spin you down, but that also activates the flipping mechanic, which is the opposite direction. So then you try to go the other direction, but the same problem arises, except now you’re going forward in an endless wheelie. Leave it be and you get stuck upside-down and have to restart.
Variations of this problem also sometimes crop up when you try to descend ramps or do whole loops, but I found that was often encouragement to play with more finesse and less brute force.
Some brute force, however, is required when you’re trying to get all three stars on some stages. The difficulty generally increases within a world from the first to the last level, but some random ones will just be ridiculously difficult. I would go from acing a stage on my first try to taking 30 attempts just to beat the next one and then go back to acing. Even though I beat every level and never used the skip option, there are some that will always and forever remain unmastered because I’m not a god dang wizard; on one particular level, I got a negative time and still only got one star.
While the difficulty progression may not be as smooth as I’d like, 1968 does introduce new folds into the gameplay quite nicely. First you encounter little orbs that flip the gravity (but thankfully don’t invert your controls) and then you find strange little pistons that launch you in the air and finally you come across moving platforms. These are not insignificant elements to a stage and are vital to either simply beating it or getting a three-star time. I just wish they would have been used more.
And the game looks charming as hell. The little car is round and bubbly with a wobbly antenna; the backdrop looks like it came out a cartoon version of “Le Voyage dans la Lune“; and the way the cheese is a deep, glowing yellow gives an alluringly modern sheen to it all. The music is similarly disarming at first with its muted trumpet and jazzy swing, but it soon becomes a little grating as there’s just the one song, though you may be inclined to disagree.
1968 is a rather uneven game in terms of its mechanics, its difficulty, and its presentation, but it all tends to shake out on the positive side of things. For the scant few times where you would get stuck upended, it was a mixture of your failure to be a better player and the frustrating path laid before you by the game to correct it. For every level where you would want to burn a cheese effigy on Attribite’s lawn as a misguided act of vengeance, another would remind you that perfecting a run is wholly satisfying. And for every time you want to smash your iPad in a ragtime-induced rage, well, you wouldn’t because these things are expensive and 1968 is a worthwhile game.