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JadeDragon's reviews and playing tips: Pocket PC games

G-Pod, by AIM Productions $12.99 US
Reviewed September 2003 by Tony Peak

There’s nothing quite like a quiet evening with the old ball and chain… Of course, I’m referring to the magic G-Pod and the link cord that attaches it to your ship. G-Pod, published by AIM Productions, is a game of skill and action that hooked me to my Pocket PC for hours, more than once until the battery was drained.

G-Pod is all about the skill of the pilot. Gravity is constantly working against you, and you’ve only got a limited amount of fuel. As if that wasn’t enough, you must also navigate through long tunnels, fight off turrets and other traps; deal with artificial gravity devices and magnets. And don’t think you get a map or compass to help you either, this game relies on good old fashion exploration. The only aid you’ll get in your quest is limited use fuel pods, which when linked with, will restore your combination fuel/life gauge. Thankfully the game also features plenty of checkpoints to resume from after death. Best of all is the level selection feature, which will let you play any level you’ve been to, resume your game, and also acts as an unlimited continue.

The small details in the game really impress me. The way the gravity seems so realistic: the G-Pod works both with and against you, and especially the feel of the physics when you have multiple gravity forces pulling against you at once. I’m also impressed with how well they’ve implemented the firing system. The bullets aren’t simply static pixels, but are in fact treated as actual objects and tracked extremely well. For example, two bullets colliding into each other will cancel each other out. The enemy turrets move in a rather precise pattern, and will destroy your precious fuel as soon as you get within sight.

The controls make for poetry in motion. Pressing up on the hardware d-pad fires a forward and reverse dual shot, left and right rotates your ship, and backwards activates both a brief shield and a downward beam. Thrust is controlled not by a hardware button, but by pushing or tapping on the screen itself. Since the game is played in landscape (left or right handed), this control set up makes a lot of sense. There’s nothing quite like nose diving straight at the ground through a set of traps, only to cut the thrust, spin 180, and regain control just pixels from the ground below. Or picture flying up a narrow tunnel, not much wider than the ship. You run into two turrets, one on the left and one on the right at equal height. You fly up between them, cut the thrust, rotate horizontally and as you start to fall back down between them you take them both out with a single shot. The controls are straight to the point and do nothing to get in the way. I honestly feel they couldn’t be set up any better than they are now.

The graphics in G-Pod are incredible. The terrains are all extremely detailed, and the sprites look lovingly handcrafted. Each level feels huge with long and winding tunnels and quite often multiple paths. You really have a good sense of scale throughout, and the collision detection seems spot on. Not once have I ever said to myself “No way! I was at least 5 pixels from that wall!” while playing G-Pod.

The sound is every bit as solid as the graphics, and does much to enhance the experience. While the opening menu contains a great music track, strangely enough there seems to be no in-game music at all. This is probably for the best, as it lets you concentrate on flying and keep an ear open for the turret shots and other traps. The sound effects are very clear and quite pleasant, ranging from very subtle thrust, to suitably audible gunfire. Everything sounds exactly as it should in a sci-fi action arcade game.

So long as you can conquer the controls, G-Pod will provide more fun and excitement than you can shake a stylus at. With 50+ levels, stage selection, and even a scoring system and high score list there’ll be plenty to do for a long time to come. For fans of games like Rocket Elite and other gravity based flying and action games, I really can’t think of a better game to recommend.

G-Pod screen shot



Playing Hint and Tips

To fight screen smudges from your thumb, always carry a micro-fiber cleaning cloth with you. They’re small; extremely lightweight, and you can pick one up for a few dollars at any electronics store. They won’t damage your LCD screen. Either wipe the screen clean after usage, or simply wrap your thumb in the cloth.

That said, I find it’s quite easy to control the thrust using the stylus. Simply hold the Pocket PC upright using your pinky finger, and hold it in place by pressing it against your ring finger. Then, using your index and thumb, hold the stylus somewhat like a pencil against the screen and use your thumb to apply pressure. Using this method will let you see a little more of the screen as well, without your thumb blocking out a corner.

You’re not carrying around that magic wrecking ball for nothing. It’s survived just fine all this time without you, and it’ll survive even after you crash and burn. So, show the environment just how strong that “magic” G-Pod is. You can use it to crush turrets, swing it into movable walls to lower them, and even use it to block bullets.

If the G-Pod is stuck in a hard to reach spot, use the beam on it to lift it toward you. If you still can’t get it, for example if it’s being pulled by a grav unit, try shooting it to make it bounce and catch it. Remember, when you crash it falls, rolls, and bounces where you die.

Don’t be afraid to push the shield button in an emergency. Relying on it will drain your fuel pronto, but strategic usage may just save your life. If you find yourself being flung into a wall out of control, hit the shield! It’ll absorb the impact and give you a moment to recover. Remember to shield yourself from enemy fire if you can’t dodge in time. Also, you can use the shield to lower the movable walls by bumping into them. This take a bit of fuel, but it’s better than crashing.

The vent systems that blow your ship around are a bit tricky. Sometimes you’ll find it’s best to go with the flow. Other times a slight angle and thrust in the opposite direction will get you through. There are times though when the best course of action may well be a nosedive or a suicide path toward the vent itself. Just be sure to correct your flight path quickly when you’re through.

If you consider yourself a sharp shooter, you can stop turret bullets by shooting them. If you’re under the pull of an artificial gravity unit, don’t be afraid to nosedive toward the ground. Remember, in this case up is down. Sometimes you’ll find good amounts of fuel hidden, and your beam will still grab it properly, even though you’re facing the wrong way.

Use the checkpoints often. You must hit them with your beam to activate them, and you can activate them in any order.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics Highly detailed textures and sprites with three distinct worlds means plenty of eye candy start to finish.
Sound Subtle yet clear, the sound is everything it should be and more. While headphones aren’t necessary, you’ll want to wear them if you have a set handy just to fully enjoy the detailed sounds.
Fun Meter Action packed and skill based, nothing beats fighting your way through tight tunnels filled with traps and turrets.
Addictivity Showing off insane flight maneuvers makes the game unique and fun every time. The level selection menu will let you replay your favorites, or see how far you can survive and the high score system provides yet another goodie in the bag. Too bad there’s no support for custom levels, but with 53 action-packed and challenging levels there’s very little to complain about.

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