Pick One: The Golden Arrow vs. Tap Rocket - Endless runners for everyone!
Every once in a while I get a very particular kind of itch; a month ago that was satisfied by downloading Color Sheep for my iPod. That's right folks, I occasionally become overwhelmed by a desire to peek at the new $.99 iOS games.
This time around I got sucked into endless runners, and after viewing the video interview with the Golden Arrow team, I was really excited to give it a shot. Right around the same time, some friends of mine and some folks I follow on Twitter started posting their high scores on a game called Tap Rocket.
Let the games begin!
I actually started playing Tap Rocket first. For the first few runs on the game, I wasn't convinced. I was immediately drawn into the soundtrack, the rainbows, and the idea of a zero gravity endless runner with touches of platforming. I loved the idea of it, but I was struggling with the execution for a short while. To be honest, when I couldn't get the hang of it, I almost gave up. Boy am I glad I didn't.
The Golden Arrow, was quite the opposite. I was drawn in by the premise of a monster protagonist, cursed to run forever. The ability to earn parts of the story by accruing distance over multiple runs was very intriguing. Almost as intriguing as why there's a princess trying to kill you with a deadly golden arrow, and what exactly you did to tick her off. The idea of unlocking the history of the game as I went was novel, and offered a story and a background not usually found in an endless runner. Boy do I wish it had worked.
Tap Rocket by Eye Interactive
In Tap Rocket you are an astronaut with a rainbow fueled jet-pack, and one extra life. You have the ability to run, jump, double-jump, or propel upwards at an angle-- provided you have a full supply of rainbows. Throughout the world your goal is to collect coins, with the help of specialty items like magnets and lightning boosters. Once I got into a good groove playing Tap Rocket, I loved being able to watch my coin count climb, and the distance meter set new personal records. Coins collected in each level accumulate over time, allowing you to purchase upgrades like additional lives and more fuel efficiency.
Tap Rocket has a highly effective scoring system, combining distance traveled with coins collected. More importantly, it has an incredibly motivational scoring system- allowing players to compare their scores within the iOS game center, as well as sharing scores on Facebook and Twitter. If this phrasing from the game's score sharing doesn't make you want to keep playing, or get started-- I don't know what would:
I wanted to like The Golden Arrow, correction-- I wanted to love it. The debut title from Monster & Glitch, a one woman Boston based indie developer offered a new perspective, and quality 8-bit artwork. My heart was very sad when after 30 minutes of straight play, the dislikes were more bountiful than the likes.
To put it bluntly, though it has a lot of potential-- the game feels unfinished. Some of the artwork was great, specifically tunnel-like portions where icicles hang perilously above. I also really liked when I noticed at one point that the grass and bushes my monster was running through were animated to give it a much more tactile feel. Unfortunately the elation at such a small yet effective touch immediately turned to frustration. I realized that while running through all the seasons, not all of the grass/bush based platforms were similarly animated-- why not?
When I first loaded The Golden Arrow I was excited enough to be in a "looking forward to playing" place. Unfortunately after just a short time playing, the novelty wore off and I was unable to look away from some glaring flaws. The load time on my iOS endless runner averaged six seconds. Wow. This may not seem like a long time, but in the world of mobile gaming- trust me it is. Pick up your phone or your iPod right now, open up your browser app and count six one-thousands. Now try and tell me that if you had to wait that long for your app to load and function, you wouldn't be in the market for a new device. In realizing that the game was published by a one-person developer in a brand new studio- I rationalized that this was a flaw that could be patched, and continued in the quest for story chapters.
I was quickly sucked in to how easy it was to earn pieces of the story; a story which is very well written, and easy to become attached to. Where The Golden Arrow went right was the developer's choice to allow the player to accumulate distance over time, instead of requiring them to accomplish the entire distance goal in one shot (shudder). Unfortunately, while I was enjoying the lack of frustration involved in being able to jump right in after dying, I started to notice that the more I played-- the more the game would glitch. Animations on the title screen were laggy, side scrolling animation would sometimes hitch up on me. As much as I loved the tactile feel (from a development/design standpoint) when my monster would bounce off a wall after an ill-timed jump, didn't love how when I was on a falling platform, the platform would lag as it fell, often causing those ill-timed jumps to be more prevalent.
And the winner is...
I wish there was a way to be less blunt about it, but there's really not. While I love the element of storytelling and history in The Golden Arrow (which I'm still addicted to), and the idea of the 8-bit graphics based on that story. Ultimately, the game didn't deliver; It feels unfinished, and I sincerely hope that Monster & Glitch bring some updates to Golden Arrow which will cash in on the potential it has. Eye Interactive's zero gravity runner was kind of a surprise, a pleasant and challenging one with a fantastic competitive edge with social score sharing. I'm excited to see where this game heads, and in the meantime I'm currently ranked 38th overall out of over 1,000 ranked players. I'm gunning for player number 10, Polygon's Dave Tach, who's only about 200k points away-- I got this.
The Golden Arrow: 5/10
Pros: Great unlockable storyline, some fantastic design elements that give the runner a very tactile experience in certain environments or when hitting a surface on a poor jump.
Cons: Graphics and overall design feels unfinished, load times were painful and animations sometimes glitched. I couldn't figure out why some platforms in the story's "forest" were suspended in midair, while some were solid and grounded. Hoping to see more improvement on this overall.
Tap Rocket: 9/10
Pros: Intuitive and incredibly responsive game play which is insanely addictive. Graphics are unique and well done, and the soundtrack is practically hypnotic. Competitive edge to score sharing is very motivating.
Cons: While each run has elements of randomization, the initial 200-300m or so of the levels are always almost the same.