Commuting Cognition: Blocky Pirates, Don’t Touch the Lava

What is this?

I’ve never been a big mobile game player, but I ended up working in a mobile games company, so I’ve been trying to expose myself to more games in this market and attempt to gain an ever-better understanding of them. One of the ways I’ve been doing that is in trying out new games, seeing what they do wrong and right, and try to draw conclusions from them that I can use in the future to make our games better. One of the resources I’ve been using for this is TouchArcade (not sponsored), and their columns listing the new iOS games of the week.

This resulted in me playing a lot more new games during my daily bus rides, but I also feel the need to discuss them somewhere and keep a log of my thoughts instead of just internalizing them. So, Commuting Cognition. These will be brief, bus-ride-long thoughts on these games, and should be seen less as reviews and more as first impressions. They also may not be daily, depending on how full the bus is that day.

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Blocky Pirates

Blocky Pirates is essentially a take on Crossy Road, with pirates. Unlike Crossy Road, where there is constant danger coming at you from every side, this game gives you quite a bit more freedom to walk around unimpeded, giving you ample time to think about your next move and to collect the scattered coins. To me this is one of the game’s problems: the lack of urgency makes the game feel less challenging (even when it’s not), and ultimately less entertaining.

The game’s ultimate crime, however, is in its flimsy controls. More often than not, swiping or even just tapping will cause the game to register a completely different swipe and move the character in an unwanted direction. I got pretty annoyed at this after my tenth consecutive death where my character just kept jumping into the water for no reason.

There are good ideas here, though.

Sometimes, I couldn’t figure out the frequency from my limited runs, upon finishing a level you get a choice between three loot boxes and must pick one shell game style, which can net you a new character. It’s a fun and different way to give out new characters, and frankly I’m surprised to not see this very often, since random end rewards go all the way back to like, what, Super Mario 2?

Sometimes, I couldn’t figure out the frequency from my limited runs, after finishing a level you get a sequence that has you move a ship between three lanes to avoid incoming obstacles; nothing mindblowing by any means, but the change in pace is nice.

The game also has a couple of interesting monetisation choices. There are video ads between levels and you can pay to get rid of them but, surprisingly, the prompt to stop seeing ads appears BEFORE the first ad appears. There are also in-app purchases for different boats, but these can also be unlocked by collecting all characters of a given set. Both of these choices are refreshingly consumer friendly, though I do have to wonder how many purchases that costs them in the long run.

Ultimately, the game is alright, but it’s the controls that are a complete game breaker for me. I even booted up Crossy Road during the bus ride just to ensure I wasn’t imagining the flimsiness, and Crossy Road controlled just fine, so I must recommend sticking with the original.
Don’t Touch the Lava

Don’t Touch the Lava is a platformer on rails that, surprisingly, eschews the rails. Swipes move your blob thing around freely, which also means the controls are super floaty. There’s a reason so many games choose to stay on rails; swipes just aren’t accurate enough for free movement. To its credit, I had no real issue making the jumps other than a constant feeling of uncomfortableness.

In addition to jumping the game also allows you to shoot to get rid of obstacles, and it provides you a handy pause-and-point tutorial to explain that to you. Unfortunately, the tutorial only triggers if the incoming obstacle happens to not spawn right in front of you, and that only happened to me after dying twice without knowing what to do. This is one of the dangers of allowing random generators to be your only level designers; it could’ve been fixed so simply just by ensuring that the first obstacle spawned in a fixed location. Randomness requires supervision!

Overall the game just feels like an unfinished prototype, both visually and mechanically, and I can’t say I enjoyed my brief time with it. The moment where tapping made the character shoot at a target that spawned earlier, instead of the rock right in front of me that spawned later, was the death that made me uninstall the game.

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