iPhone Game Review: Undead Island
Reviewed by Tim Harvey
Team Phobic, the developer of Undead Island, has an excellent track record in delivering standout platformers for the iOS, and if you're already familiar with some of their earlier titles such as Bounce On and Bounce On 2: Drallo's Demise, then you may want to stop reading this review now so that you can go buy Undead Island right away. However, if you haven't already tried those, or are just unsure if you are ready to confront an island teeming with our frequent nemeses, zombies, then read on.
Undead Island is a side scrolling action platformer that, due to the presence of a ninja as the main character, some might be inclined to compare to Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi, but in truth it's quite a different type of game than those two classic ninja side scrollers, since the emphasis here is more on exploration, platforming and avoiding traps than on combat. That's not to say you won't get to do your fair share of slicing and dicing, but the combat mechanic is simple?you touch an attack button (or area of the screen, depending on which control option you've selected) and it will cause you to use your sword or shuriken depending on your distance from a baddie.
Speaking of those controls, you can use a touch pad option which gives you a slider for movement that works as a simple left/right directional pad as well, along with two onscreen buttons?one for your attack and one for your jump. You can also stick with the default option of tilting to move and touching the left side of the screen to jump and the right side to attack. In fact, this is the control scheme I prefer because then I can focus more on what's onscreen and don't have to worry about a missed tap for the jump, which can lead to an untimely death when using the control pad option. Anyone who has played his or her share of platformers on their iphone can tell you that it's often the controls that will make or break the game, and while many will prefer the more familiar touch control option, I found that tilt movement seemed to work fluently in Undead Island, as it is obvious the game's levels were designed (extremely well) with those tilt controls in mind. As a result, if one takes the time to adjust to the tilt option, pits and traps become quite intuitive to navigate.
Level design is, as mentioned, excellent, and contains spiked pits, razor-sharp swinging pendulums, falling platforms, breaking suspension bridges, dropping boulders and more, as well as zombies, zombies and more zombies, although there is some variety in enemy types and in a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud, a boss that is decidedly unzombified.
The game makes use of vibrant hand-drawn graphics that feature gorgeous backgrounds which, through the use of differing lighting, shadows, and parallax scrolling, often appear almost oddly realistic in contrast to the more cartoon-like foreground that sees your slightly stocky, big-headed ninja negotiating 2.5D platforms in 2D movement.
The 2.5D appearance and the depth of the backdrop as well as the full proportions of the figures gives the unified style a pleasant sense of weight that grounds the player nicely in the game's physics. Figures move with momentum, and when you hack a zombie into several pieces, there is an understated ?rag doll? feel to them that is entertaining to watch but which also doesn't detract from the realistic physical feel of the game. This sense of completeness in the game art and the physical game world is the kind of thing that Team Phobic does so well and in such a distinctive style of their own.
The game also features a few cut scenes with attractive watercolors on ink, which is also used to illustrate the icons for the game's 10 Game Center achievements.
The score is lovely, with what I can only describe as a suitably Japanese-sounding ensemble of percussion, strings and wind instruments that is largely a relaxed affair. It's clear that a lot of work went into composing it, as there seems to be a large variety of tracks to accompany the game's 16 levels.
Sound effects tend more towards the comic, with zombies muttering and flatly stating, ?braaains.? The voices almost sound like those of a mellowed-out, middle-aged man, which actually somehow completely works for the tone of the game. Your ninja has a few voiced bits as well that, along with the spoken parts of the dragon that you meet under cherry trees, add a feminine touch.
Overall, Undead Island is a masterfully composed work of game design, forged with equal parts action, quirky humor and violence and fine-tuned as sharp as a katana's edge. The only caveat I can make is that while Game Center leaderboards and achievements, as well as hidden areas and secret levels provide decent replay value, the game is somewhat lacking in content, and even on the hardest difficulty, an experienced gamer will be able to complete the entire game in a couple of hours, at most. Still, that time is well worth the asking price and Undead Island is a definite must-have for fans of platformers.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4.5 - Although they may fall somewhere between old school retro and new school chic, the graphics are distinctive and gorgeous.
Sound: - 4 - Both lovely and zen-like, humorous and relaxing, the sound is nothing but a strength.
Controls: - 4 - For those who simply can't hack it with tilt movement, some other button configuration options for the touch controls would be nice. For those who can get used to the tilt controls, however, they will find them nearly flawless.
Gameplay: - 4.5 - Great level design and relatively simple combat mixed with strong platforming and plenty of exploration make for one of the very best platforming gameplay experiences on the iOS.
Overall: - 4.5 - A must have game if you have enjoyed similar titles in the past, Undead Island may leave you wanting more, but it will certainly make you happy that you took the short journey with it.
Playing Hints and Tips:
You can always adjust the difficulty level from the main menu if you find yourself getting stuck.
Make sure to explore each level carefully to find new powers and items that will increase your high score.
High scores are best made during speed runs after thoroughly exploring a level on your initial playthrough.
Bounce On 2: Drallo's Demise: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bounce-on-2-drallos-demise/id363718040?mt=8
Giana Sisters: http://www.mobiletechreview.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Number=37969
Pizza Boy: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pizza-boy/id389318128?mt=8
League of Evil: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/league-of-evil/id405552598?mt=8
Ghost Ninja: Zombie Beatdown: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ghost-ninja-zombie-beatdown/id395409859?mt=8
Developer: Team Phobic
Release Date: March 3, 2011
Buy App: Undead Island
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