game reviews and playing tips: iPhone and iPod Touch games Read our review of iPhone 3G!
Reviewed by Jacob Spindel, posted February 2009
Developed by Pangea Software
Release Date: 9/15/08
Content Rating: Ages 4+
When it was first released for OS X, Pangea’s Bugdom 2 was a cutting-edge title even for desktop Macs, thanks to its advanced 3D graphics and detailed environments. With that in mind, any attempt to port the game to a cell phone might sound about as crazy as trying to port it to a washing machine. That is, it would have sounded crazy, if it weren’t for the advanced graphics and gaming capabilities of the iPhone. Like the OS X original, the iPhone game has a few questionable design choices; however, Bugdom 2 for iPhone is most definitely a nearly pixel-perfect translation of a classic game.
Working The Bugs Out
The 63.2 megabyte game includes all ten levels of the original, in which you play a grasshopper named Skip, whose possessions have been stolen by Bully Bee. Your job is to maneuver Skip through puzzles, enemies, and obstacles to chase down Bully Bee before he gets away. You’ll face ants, roaches, ticks, and other bad guys, mostly other types of insects, although there are also some toys gone haywire. Fortunately, you’ll also be helped along by a snail and a raccoon that show up throughout the levels to provide you with instructions, keys, and checkpoints.
Okay, so you’ve probably figured out by now that the storyline isn’t really one of the game’s strong points. Besides having a fair amount of cheesiness, the story at times gets dangerously close to drawing “too much inspiration” from Pixar movies – plus the storyline has absolutely no connection to the original Bugdom. Moreover, after chasing Bully Bee for ten levels, you may be expecting the intensity level to finally pick up a little bit when you reach your climactic showdown against him – except there isn’t one, because (spoiler alert) when you catch up to Bully Bee, he just gives your stuff back and runs away, which is a bit of a let-down. However, I must admit that most people who play action adventure aren’t really that interested in the story in the first place.
Now, for the good news: the gameplay! Most of the levels involve Skip walking and flying through different parts of a house, collecting keys and fending off enemies by kicking them or by using “buddy bugs” to bomb them. There is a lot of variety in the environments, ranging from outdoors to a dark closet, as well as many creative uses for ordinary objects to solve puzzles, such as when Skip uses cans of carbonated soda to spray himself up to new heights, so the game is a lot of fun to play and doesn’t get boring. There are also two “surfing” style levels in which Skip slides on water to speed through pipes and other areas, as well as a balsa airplane level in which you fly over and bomb anthills while engaging in “dogfights” against dragonflies. Very few 3D action/adventure games even exist for iPhone, so it’s lucky that Bugdom 2 does such a good job of providing fast-paced and exciting action.
If you’ve played the Mac OS X game, you may be wondering how you can possibly control Skip using an iPhone; this was certainly one of my biggest worries when starting the game, and it is indeed trickier than playing on a Mac. However, the iPhone control scheme Pangea provides actually does work. Skip’s movement is controlled using the accelerometer, and you can make him jump or kick by tapping or swiping on the touch screen, respectively. I’m especially grateful that Pangea has provided a “Neutral” button in the bottom left corner of the screen, which makes Skip hold still – so if you start feeling like you are losing control of the accelerometer, simply press and hold the button in order to say “STOP!” (If you’re like me, you’ve probably owned a few video games that made you yell “STOP!” – but you only wished that it would actually work!) The one downside is that the Neutral button is positioned very close to the “Fire Buddy Bug” button, so you may occasionally hit the wrong one in the middle of a battle.
You can save your game (seven save slots are provided), but only at the end of each level, so Bugdom 2 may not work well for environments where you can’t guarantee you’ll have lots of free time. You start with five lives, but there are very few chances to get more, and when you reload a saved game, you only start with however many lives you had when you saved. So for example, if you beat level 1 and save your game, but you only have one life left, you may feel compelled to go back and play level 1 again and try to finish it without losing as many lives, so you’ll still have them for level 2. This gets a bit frustrating after a while, and I would rather see a system where you could just start at your saved level with a fixed number of lives.
Despite the game initially seeming too heavyweight to even consider playing on a phone, Bugdom 2 is impressively stable and had very few issues with crashing. It did display a warning that memory was low seemingly every single time I reached the Game Over screen, but even intentionally ignoring this message multiple times did not cause the game to crash. One problem we did experience is that, if you accidentally trigger a sync with iTunes while you’re playing Bugdom 2, the game will actually continue running in the background, with the background music playing throughout the sync operation, which was rather annoying.
Bugdom 2 looks great. The three dimensional worlds are colorful and detailed, and the characters are well animated with individualized mannerisms. The game did sometimes start dropping its frame rate after I had been playing for an extended amount of time, but for the most part, the visuals are smooth and don’t experience glitches. In short, it looks exactly like the Mac version, except for the decrease in screen size. If you’re expecting your iPhone to become overwhelmed or sluggish from such a graphically intense game, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Pangea has a reputation for supplying outstanding background music for its games, and Bugdom 2 lives up to the tradition, once again matching the Mac version. The original compositions are whimsical and catchy, and they complement the action well (unless the action is “syncing with iTunes”). All the sound effects you’d expect are here as well, providing appropriate audio cues for impacts, kicks, and LOTS of buzzing wings.
The game does also have some voice acting, especially when Skip’s friends are giving him instructions or hints, but unfortunately this aspect of the audio falls back into the “cheesiness” category. The dialog isn’t very well written or performed, sometimes to the point of making the game seem like it was intended only for young children (which I don’t think is really the case). I wouldn’t call the voice acting annoying, but unfortunately it sometimes gets pretty close.
Phone, Bugs, and Harmony
Considering the fact that very few iPhone games even attempt to compete with Bugdom 2, Pangea didn’t really have to set the bar very high – but thankfully, they did anyway. The game’s slick 3D graphics and entertaining gameplay provide a successful translation of virtually everything that made the original version for Mac OS X so much fun. The game’s writers and voice actors won’t exactly be winning any Oscars for their work, but if you’re looking for an exciting game for your iPhone, Bugdom 2 will almost certainly hold your attention better than whatever you were supposed to be working on.
Hints & Tips
-Pick up and carry an acorn before unlocking any locked gate, as well as any other time when you are likely to be approaching a checkpoint. Then you can claim the checkpoint as soon as you get there without putting your progress at risk by waiting longer.
-It can be very difficult to navigate your way through those exploding firecracker-like things without setting any off... so don't! Often, you can just fly over the whole area instead.
-You can destroy the glass soda bottles by firing Buddy Bugs at them.
-In the closet level (level 6), don't bother trying to fight or outrun the moths - you'll just get frustrated. The only solution that works is to hop up to the higher platforms and find a mothball to carry.
-Virtually all enemies become stunned the first time you kick them - so keep kicking them right away, until they're down, rather than giving them time to recover.
-On level 10 (The Park), the frogs may seem kind of intimidating, but they are actually very easy to kill, so don't hesitate to fight them.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
The fast-paced, highly detailed three dimensional environments will convince you that the iPhone and iPod touch can be serious gaming machines (if you weren’t already convinced).
Limited options for saving may make you a little more reluctant to just pick up the game and start playing, but the gameplay is a lot of fun, and you’ll definitely want to spend lots of time playing.
As long as you don’t mind a little cheesiness and a few other inconveniences, Bugdom 2 is one of the best and most exciting action/adventure games available for iPhone, rivaling even games on dedicated gaming platforms like the Nintendo DS.