Apr 23, 2012

Pro's and Con's review: Pizza Boy

Format: iOS
Developer: Acne Play
Publisher: Acne Play

Platform game controls are tricky to get right on a touch screen device. I've played a number of decent platform games on my iPod Touch over the years, the better ones usually leveraging the device's unique interface rather than attempting to shoehorn traditional game controls onto the screen. Pizza Boy is an exception, it emulates traditional physical controls by use of on-screen virtual buttons and, believe it or not, it plays really well and does a great job delivering the look, feel and playability of some of the best platformers of yesteryear on modern mobile devices.

So let's run Pizza Boy through the Pro's and Con's paces, examining the game from a professional and consumer's point of vue.

Professional's Take:
The pro's take on Pizza Boy might come off as sort of harsh, but I criticize out of love.This is such a great game that its design shortcomings stand out all the more prominently. Most egregious of these is the inclusion of a system of lives obviously included as a throw back to the classic games of the mid to late 80's that have served as ample inspiration to the folks at Acne Play. Lives, however, are actually pretty pointless given the way the game handles dying and level restarts. In fact, I may as well call out how player death is handled as the game's greatest design shortcoming. The levels have no checkpoints. Yup, that's right, no check points. Dying two meters from the finish line will require you restart the entire level. I just can't get behind that. In addition, or perhaps because of this, there's no greater penalty for running out of lives. Usually a game might re-spawn you at the last checkpoint after dying but force you to restart the level if you run out of lives. Since restarting the level is the status quo, the game, instead, shows you an "out of lives" screen then sends you back to the title screen. Now, this doesn't affect your actual progress in game or anything as you can simply jump right back in with three lives. It's just annoying and simply acts as a barrier to trying again forcing you to tap your way back through the the opening screen and level select before attempting the level again. You do lose any coins you've accumulated but this really should only concern players looking to get high scores. Don't get me wrong, actually making you lose game progress would have been much worse but why insist on implementing an antiquated system that has no practical effect on your game other that giving players a perfectly good reason not to try again by kicking them way back to the title screen?

Where the design of Pizza Boy shines is the level design. Levels present fun challenges and some great close call moments. In the great Mario tradition, both intermediate and advanced players can have a lot of fun running and jumping their way to the end of levels. Some of this is due to the way hazard and enemy placement usually makes it possible to clear obstacles either through careful movements and waiting for openings or with split second timing and razor sharp reflexes depending on your skill level. More advanced players can also entertain themselves by seeking out the various collectible items scattered throughout each level for additional score.

The game is, unfortunately, less kind to novice players as even early levels can be quite challenging making it difficult for slow learners to garner the skills necessary to tackle the later levels.

Consumer's Take:
So, let's address the elephant in the room. We are talking about playing a platform game on a touch screen using virtual buttons. I know, I know, many of you are probably running for the hills right now, but give this game a chance! Pizza Boy, quite simply, has the best controls of any platform game I have tried on iOS, bar none! Through a combination of well placed and sized on-screen controls and near perfect character responsiveness Acne Play almost makes you forget you aren't holding a game pad. Other developers should strive to reproduce this magic.

The graphics and sound in Pizza Boy shoot for a decidedly retro feel while remaining crisp, clear and vibrant. Character sprites are all clear and adorable and it's easy to tell elements apart from each other and the background. The auditory blast from the past is also spot on though I do wish there were more volume controls as I find the sounds and music to be generally too loud, even with my iPod volume at minimum.

To wrap it up, Pizza Boy is a must play for anyone who loves challenging platform games or is curious to find out just how well this kind of game can play even on a touch screen. It looks great, sounds great and controls like a dream. Keep in mind the volume might annoy nearby house mates and the difficulty might turn off less skilful players. But, hey, if you miss those Sundays spent wasting hours playing Sonic or Mario do yourself a favour and download Pizza Boy.

Image from: Acne Play

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