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Old dog, new tricks

Product: Gridrunner | Developer: Llamasoft | Publisher: Llamasoft | Format: iPhone | Genre: Shooter | Players: 1 | File size: 9.5MB | Version: Europe | App version: 0001.01.00
Gridrunner iPhone, thumbnail 1
When one-man programming legend Jeff ‘Yak’ Minter releases a new product, the video game industry generally sits up and takes notice.

A veteran of the 8-bit era and one of the few people to have a good word to say about the ill-fated Atari Jaguar, Minter is almost as skilful with code as he is affectionate towards woolly animals. But we digress. We’re here to talk about his new iOS shooter - or, to be more truthful, his new old shooter.

Minter originally created Gridrunner in 1982, but don’t allow the age of this title to lull you into a false sense of security: what it lacks in spectacular 3D graphics it more than makes up for in difficulty.

It’s also arguably more rewarding than modern shooters, stripping away the visual trappings to reveal an addictive, almost hypnotic slide-show of laser death.

Getting into Gridrunner’s groove isn’t easy. The main issue most players will face is the seemingly floaty controls, which appear befuddling when you’re used to the ‘finger-follow’ configuration of titles like Shogun: Rise of the Renegade and DoDonPachi Resurrection.

This is because Gridrunner employs a virtual analogue joystick, the center of which is wherever you place your digit on the touchscreen.

Back to the grid

Once you become accustomed to using careful, calculated movements as opposed to wildly aggregated swipes, it all drops into place. It’s possible to perfect some surprisingly deft manoeuvres with this interface, which proves to be a must on the later levels.

Gridrunner is all about avoiding projectiles and clearing the screen as methodically as possible. Destroyed enemies turn into yellow blocks, and if left unmolested these will eventually drop down the screen as bombs, which - in a unique twist - you can juggle for additional points if you're skilful enough.

Not that you’ll be partaking in such activities when you first start with Gridrunner, of course. Your primary concern will be weaving in and out of oncoming bullets, collecting vital power-ups that cast out a wide arc of destruction before your ship, and generally swearing like a trooper as you struggle to comprehend how you actually managed to emerge from that last pixel-strewn screen intact.

Bullet hell

It’s this glorious seat-of-your-pants action that makes Gridrunner so compelling. Each level - or grid, to use the game’s official parlance - only takes a short while to complete, but staying alive on the later stages is easier said than done.

Indestructible gunships patrol the edges of the grid, raining fire down on your ship, while harder and more agile foes dash down the screen with the express intention of ending your game as brutally as possible.

As a score-based experience, few games can match Gridrunner. Game Center support isn’t in place as yet, but OpenFeint - surely the next best thing - thankfully is. To cap it all off, by turning your iPhone on its side you gain access to the original 1982 version of the game, complete with even more retro-tinged visuals.

It’s almost impossible to find fault with Gridrunner, purely because it’s a game that is refreshingly honest about what it wants to be.

The old skool imagery is engaging, the deliberately archaic audio sounds so fantastic you’ll be playing at maximum volume, and the lush control scheme effortlessly avoids the usual complaints shooter addicts generally have about touchscreen interfaces. For those who still grumble, iCade support is your friend.

Minter’s vision remains 100 per cent crystal clear, even after programming his way through three tumultuous decades of technological advancement. The fact that Gridrunner is just as addictive and challenging as any shooter you’ll find on the App Store - if not more so - is testament to the man’s talent.

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Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 9 March 2012
Conclusive proof that retro games can still mix it up with modern releases, Gridrunner is a shooter fan’s dream come true. Sublime controls and a stern challenge make this one of the best blasters to grace iOS in ages
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