I’m going to take a guess, dear reader, and say that you have played an endless runner or two hundred. I don’t think you’ve played anything on mobile quite like Fotonica ($2.99). It’s an auto-runner by way of Mirror’s Edge ($0.99) – not the side-scrolling game, but the original game, in first-person, all in a wireframe style. The entire game is played with one touch, but it’s not tap-to-jump. Essentially, tapping and holding on the screen descends to the ground, and allows the runner to pick up speed, while letting go jumps in the air. When jumping, trying to land with this rapid descent is important to maintain speed, as bonus points are earned for running fast enough that the world turns gold.
I think the game is a much different, and even better experience, than it would be if it was just a side-scroller. There’s something different about timing jumps when looking through the eyes of the runner, having to be cognizant of when the ledge is, and just making that jump? It’s a special feeling. The subtle grunts of the runner go a long way, too: it’s not just a distant, disconnected character, it’s a person, it’s you. I think it turns this game from an interesting runner into a special experience. Really, the whole game is about “just enough." The world is comprised of wireframes, but with just enough detail to provide some character. The game uses just enough color beyond its monochrome to give it vibrancy and not feel dull. The music is ambient, meant to provide texture to the world and not be distracting.
Arcade mode is comprised of seven set levels, with paths that go higher and lower throughout them. The goal is not just to get up as high as possible in these levels, because of the dots that can earn extra points, they’re spread all throughout the level, so finding optimal paths for dot collection, along with picking up and maintaining speed, is key to getting on the leaderboards. Each arcade mode level can be played in a split-screen versus mode on iPad, where the first person to the end wins.
Endless mode is a bit of a different beast, with three different levels that seem dull at first, because they lack the multi-tier design of the Arcade levels. But keep playing them, and their purpose becomes clear: the challenge is about the repetition, about not just making a jump from a lower height to a higher one, but about doing it twenty times, at high speeds. This mode also manages to teach players how to approach certain situations, like jumping not just at the end of the ledge to reach the next platform, but from the middle when necessary. It’s interesting because it uses the exact same mechanics in a simpler way for something that’s a different challenge.
What I enjoy in large part about Fotonica is that the game makes failing not feel so bad. It doesn’t indicate that it’s “game over" or any indication that you didn’t beat the level. Nope, it just gives the score, and the ability to tap anywhere to start again. I’ve completed levels with lower scores than incomplete runs. Certainly, runs where I failed to complete them have scored higher than successful ones. Playing it safe doesn’t necessarily have its benefits.
Really, I’m kind of surprised that this game wasn’t on mobile earlier because it’s so perfect for mobile. The one-touch gameplay is a natural fit. The score-centricity of the game is a match made for Game Center. Everyplay support makes sharing great runs a lot easier than it does on PC. The game supports portrait aspect ratios as well as landscape. And I think playing on a device you hold in your hands is just more intimate than sitting back and watching it on a screen. This might be the best way to play Fotonica yet.
Really, it’s hard to find anything to complain about with Fotonica. It’s such a cool experience, is masterfully crafted, and really rewards playing it again and again. Definitely check this one out.