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Mobile Game of the Week: Spiral (iOS)

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Mobile Game of the Week: <i>Spiral</i> (iOS)

Spiral caught my interest with its assertion that it was a full-fledged action game made specifically with touch-based controls in mind. While that is a common claim made by iOS games these days, the promise of a console-style 3D action game with touch-based controls that actually work is still a compelling one. While Spiral does what it sets out to do, it gets lost in the ambitious scope of the story and gameplay along the way. What’s left is an interesting game that feels well-intentioned, but a bit unfinished.

Spiral is one of those games that clearly wants to be a science fiction action movie—or perhaps a science fiction anime. The story begins with a scene on a train, although it’s clearly not the kind of train you or I have ever been on. You begin to walk through the compartments of the train and realize that there are only security officers onboard, which seems peculiar (more on this later). After talking with a few of them, you find out that you are also onboard this futuristic train for security purposes. After getting through some more dialogue, you of course end up on top of the moving train fighting some terrorist guys and zombie-like creatures. Scenes such as these are entirely linear, but between exploring, talking to NPCs, fighting and cut scenes, there is enough variety to keep things interesting.

Unfortunately, the text that precludes each chapter does more to develop the world than the visuals do. The game is made in Unreal and looks pretty enough, but many of the environments feel rather generic, especially since Spiral is supposed to be set in the future. What’s worse is that the environments are mostly empty. The citizens of the city Soleil are mostly absent or carbon copies of each other and there is often very little to interact with outside of completing your main objectives. It’s really a shame because Spiral’s plot of corruption and terrorism is better than average sci-fi action game, but the unrealized world holds it back from being truly gripping.

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But the real story in Spiral is in the controls. Spiral prides itself on rejecting the virtual buttons and invisible directional pads of similar iOS games. Instead, all movement is done with taps and by dragging your thumb along the screen. The developers should certainly be applauded for fitting all the game’s controls in the touch-based scheme, including world exploration and combat. When in the world, moving your character is as easy as tapping on the screen to where you want him to move to. This part of the game takes a lot of inspiration from last year’s action/adventure hit Horn, which had a similar mission of eradicating virtual buttons from iOS games. Also like Horn, moving around in the world can be pretty inaccurate, but because Spiral doesn’t require you to make very many precise movements, it mostly works.

The part of Spiral’s control scheme that doesn’t work quite as well involves combat. In combat mode, tapping on enemies performs a light attack, while repeatedly doing so will make you do a combo. It’s not button-mashing, but it feels a heck of a lot like it. If you hold down on an enemy, you’ll charge up and do a heavy attack, which works well to get enemies away from you. Depending on how close you are to the enemy you are attacking, your character’s all purpose arm attachment will turn into a long spear, a sword or a gun. It is an interesting idea, but the problem is that Spiral’s battles often happen against multiple enemies at a time. Surrounded by enemies, I often found the best way to stay alive was to constantly run away from them and use the gun to keep them away. As you can probably guess, this isn’t all that fun.

Developers should learn this important lesson from Spiral: Tapping on enemies doesn’t make touch-based combat any less awkward than tapping on virtual buttons. Trying to dodge, use special attacks, perform combos and control movement all with a series of chaotic taps simply makes combat more frustrating. So far, the swipe-based solutions to combat that games like Horn, Infinity Blade, and even Combo Crew have discovered feel far more intuitive. It doesn’t make Spiral any less interesting of a game, but it just might cause you to think twice when you stumble across Episode 2 in the App Store down the road.

Spiral Episode 1
Developer: Pixel Hero Games
Price: $4.99
Platform: iOS
Release date: 06/11/13

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