March 17, 2010 | Andy Boxall
Has the isometric platform game genre been fully exploited since the days of 8-bit gaming? Will examples such as Knight Lore, Batman and Head Over Heals remain the best because they are essentially unchallenged? Like the platform genre itself, the isometric platformer has simply evolved rather than disappeared, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t demand for a game that returns to its roots – a room-to-room explorer with puzzles to solve along the way.
ITL Games’ Alone (iTunes link) does just that. You are alone in an evacuated city which was destroyed after a chemical attack. Well, we say ‘alone’, but that’s not quite true, as there are some unfortunate survivors of the attack to keep you company along with your girlfriend, who was also exposed to the chemical. Your ultimate goal is to find a vaccine for both you and her so you can escape together.
Controlling your character can be done with a traditional virtual joystick on the left side of the screen and two buttons, fire and jump, on the right, or by tapping the corners of the screen depending on which way your want to move. This is complimented by double taps for jump and a swipe to fire. The standard virtual joystick felt much more natural, so this stayed activated.
Graphically, Alone does recall those titles mentioned earlier, but blessed with far more detail and colour. The emo-haired main character, who isn’t given a name, perhaps lacks a little of the cuteness that made Head Over Heals so memorable, but the comical faces of the zombified residents goes some way to making up for this. It’s clear what everything you come across does, from the one-way blocks to the spiked floors, in part thanks to the uncluttered environments.
For a game like Alone to be enjoyable, the puzzles have to be good; not just inventive, but challenging too. Walking through Alone you’ll come across lift blocks, disappearing blocks, mines, spikes, seemingly inaccessible doors, switches to pull, keys to find and plenty more too. Timing is everything, with certain things needing to be in place before giving you access to the next room, meaning you’ll likely fail a good few times before getting a particular puzzle right.
Luckily, when you do die you respawn in the same room and at your starting point, plus if you walk out, when you return anything important will be back to where it should be.
You’re going to be using these two features quite a bit too, as certain puzzles in Alone are really tough. It’s not always difficult to figure out what needs to be done, but it’s the setup which can prove hair-pullingly problematic. Often there is no room for failure at all, with pixel-perfection or almost instant reactions needed to progress, with some multiple action sequences quickly becoming frustrating. Bear in mind the expensive iPhone is a very chuckable device if you find this type of game very annoying!
This isn’t really a criticism of Alone, as its 8-bit cousins could be just as irritating, and at least there are no collision detection issues clouding the gameplay here! Regardless of all this, Alone is good fun to play and it has a very clever system where if you have played a level for more than 10 minutes, the next is unlocked, meaning if you are stuck on a level you can still progress. The bouncy music suits the style, the ten levels contain plenty of entertainment for the cost of the app – plus there will be others to download in the future – and the autosave ensures that a short game can be played without fear of wasting your time.
The only minus points refer to the respawning of your character in a room filled with nasties, where you die over and over again due to your position, and the collection of objects seems a largely pointless exercise. Other than this, Alone is a solid game which should appeal to retro enthusiasts and fans of other isometric games, as well as anyone wanting an entertaining platform puzzler to get to grips with. Its current $0.99 price makes it a bargain too.