We hate ourselves. It’s the only answer that makes sense. Why else would we play games like Impossible Road? This sadistic son of a bitch beats us down worse than Bruiser Brody, killing us in seconds almost every game. And yet we keep tapping the screen to restart as soon as it’s done. When did failure become fun?
A ball is rolling down a thin, twisting ribbon of a road. The road is different every time you play, but it’s always spiraling downward with sudden drops and dramatic turns, and it’s always just barely wide enough to keep that ball from plummeting into the white abyss. There are gates spaced throughout the road, and you get a point every time your ball rolls through one. Your goal is to keep that ball rolling down that road as long as possible, racking up points, and you do that by touching the left or right sides of the screen to make the ball move in either direction. The physics are killer, though, with a ball that’s slow to start moving and hard to stop. If you hold your finger down too late or for even a split second too long your ball will probably fly off the edge to its doom.
Falling off the road isn’t immediately fatal, and if you angle your descent properly you might be able to guide the ball onto a lower portion of the road. If you do that and hit the next gate you’ll get a point for every gate you missed. This turns accidents into opportunities, forging strategy out of near-death experiences. If you see that the road doubles back beneath you, you can drop off the side of the road and easily catch yourself. That’s often a safer bet than trying to keep pace with those infernal curves.
Again, though: these physics hate you. The ball starts and stops slow, and figuring out the right amount of finger to use is always tricky. It’s as challenging as Super Hexagon, another cruel mobile game that defies you to grasp its extremely precise touch controls. Impossible Road may not be quite as brutal, but that’s like saying Super Mario World isn’t quite as good as Super Mario Bros. 3. Impossible Road is brutal enough to make you seriously consider real-world violence.
It’s also fun, though, and almost deliriously so. Part of that is the eternal allure of the high score—you’ll think you’re on the cusp of a new record almost every game. Part of that is the single-minded elegance of Kevin Ng’s design. You’ll always know why and when you mess up, and yet you’ll probably make the same mistake dozens of times while trying to find the controls’ sweet spot. And then you’ll immediately have to find that spot again, over and over, as the contorted road continues its descent. The minimal aesthetic is also invaluable—the vibrantly colored road engulfed in white is a striking image, and the driving score will make you want to push ever forward. Impossible Road is unforgiving in the most enjoyable way.
Developer: Kevin Ng
Release Date: 05/09/13