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iPad  header logo

Square Planet

For: iPad   Also on: iPhone

Quad damage

Product: Square Planet | Developer: Majaka | Publisher: Majaka | Format: iPad | Genre: Platform | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
 
Square Planet iPad, thumbnail 1
When the microwave oven became widely available in the UK, people tried to cook everything in it, from roast chicken to scrambled eggs.

A microwave has its uses, but if you've ever been presented with a colourless wet chicken or a mug of scrambled egg with the consistency of packing foam, you'll know that its uses are more limited than microwaving enthusiasts once hoped.

The same goes for accelerometer controls. Game developers were obviously keen to make use of the iPhone's fancy new motion control capabilities when Apple's smartphone debuted five years ago, and the result was a couple of very good games, quite a few decent games that would have been better if they'd used virtual buttons rather than accelerometer controls, and innumerable terrible games that prioritised gimmickry over gameplay.

Before you jump to any unfortunate conclusions, Square Planet isn't as bad as that. In fact, it's pretty good. But, it would have been even better if it either did away with its accelerometer controls or refined them to the point that they made a meaningful contribution.

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May the fours be with you

You play as Round Ball, whose mission is to rescue your fellow Ball People, all of whom are imprisoned in cages littered around Square Planet's two environments (Square Forest and Cube City - a third, Edge Factory, is on the way).

Each of these environments contains eight large open levels, and each of these levels contains six Ball People, though you don't need to rescue all of them to progress. To get around the sprawling stages, you tilt your iOS device to move left and right, and tap the screen to jump.

If you've downloaded Square Planet already, it won't have escaped your notice that it's free... or, rather, freemium. Each of the stages contains several booths where you can spend the rings that you collect through normal play (or by getting your wallet out) on secret paths, double-jumps, and alarm hacks.

You can get by without forking out, but it's often necessary to buy a double-jump or open a secret path to reach one of the captive balls, for example.

The platforming itself is fairly traditional, with swinging platforms, lava pits, bad guys, half-hidden areas, and all of the things you learnt to expect 20 years ago after playing Super Mario World.

That's not to say Square Planet is entirely unoriginal. Alongside the rather tedious raft-hopping sections, there are more inventive moments, such as when the log you're standing on goes down a slope, forcing you to tilt your iOS device to stay aboard.

There's also a sense of humour running through the game - at one point in the first world, for instance, you come across a hidden path-vending booth next to a group of cuboid baddies standing around a campfire smoking cigarettes. If you buy the hidden path, a boulder falls from the sky and lands on the baddies, allowing you to climb over the murderous geological hulk and reach the level above.

Cornered

Square Planet gets a lot of things right, but the thing it gets wrong is arguably more important than any of them.

Part of the appeal of playing video games - particularly physics-platformers starring balls - lies in the physical satisfaction of becoming very good at something. The more sophisticated the physics engine is and the more responsive the controls are, the more scope there is to hone your satisfaction-inducing abilities.

Square Planet's tilt controls and physics engine are fine, but they need to be better. If you're travelling too fast in one direction, all you need to do is jerk your iOS device in the other direction to stop abruptly and perfectly. If you roll down a hill and crash into something, you don't bounce or jar, as you'd expect an object subject to the laws of physics to do. You just stop.

To be good at Super Monkey Ball, you need to develop an exquisite mastery over the primate you're tasked with puppeteering. To be good at Square Planet, you just need to proceed cautiously. The physics engine and the controls will never let you get away with anything else.

The fact is, the Square Planet experience would have been more enjoyable with ordinary virtual controls.

That's what the game's developer gets wrong, and it's this that keeps Square Planet from achieving platforming greatness. However, there's still a lot to like in the way of ideas and presentation.

It handles its in-app purchases fairly sensitively, too, generally letting you choose between two palatable courses of action rather than presenting you with the sadly familiar option of paying up or having no fun. You can get a reasonable amount of enjoyment out of the game without paying a penny.

If you're in the market for a free platformer, you could do worse than Square Planet. It doesn't compete with the best that iOS has to offer, but nor does it languish among the worst.
 
Square Planet
Reviewer photo
Rob Hearn | 1 November 2012
Square Planet looks the part, and it has plenty of good ideas, but a less-than-perfect physics engine lets it down
 
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