App of the Day: Off the Leash

Don't mention the walkies.

Version tested iPhone

Given that running games are so prevalent these days, it seems a bit mental that it's taken this long for someone to produce a good one starring a dog. After all, dogs practically invented running. They certainly bang on about it enough, bouncing around the kitchen whenever anyone so much as glances at a wellington boot. But hey, the wait is over thanks to Big Pixel Studios' Off the Leash.

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Woof!

You know the drill by now and this is only a gentle variation. Using tilt controls, you direct a scampering hound up into the screen, swerving to avoid pools, fences and police cars (dogs have been banned, you see - hence all the running away). Or alternatively you swerve towards things - to gather food for levelling up, other dogs for building a merry train of friends, and coins for spending at the in-game shop.

There's a timer on-screen most of the time, ticking down, and you need to hit certain checkpoints before it expires or else you'll run smack bang into a police roadblock. You can better your chances of making it further by levelling up, which increases your speed, and by gathering other dogs to your cause, because as they scamper in your wake they create a wider footprint, which helps in hoovering up collectables. There are also power-ups like a magnet, a chili speed boost and a doggy icon that doubles the number of pooches in your parade.

It's all fairly entertaining, although Off the Leash falls short of games like Temple Run in some respects. The basic rate of movement is very slow, the checkpoints are uncharitably distant and the reward structure is geared towards racking up microtransactions for minor improvements a bit more than some of its friendlier iTunes stable-mates - although there are plenty of cosmetic unlockables too, like a sweet hat and a beret.

Plus, to be fair, once you do start fulfilling the optional side objectives - befriending five Dalmatians or grabbing a trio of chili boosts, for example - you start unlocking a healthy number of golden whistles, which allow you to punch through the first police roadblock of which you fall foul, furthering your adventures. With persistence and a few days' scrabbling, you should start scratching your way up the Game Center leaderboards. If not, there's no harm done - the basic app is free.

You probably will keep plugging away, too, because Off the Leash is just as cute and polished as the developer's other work, like Land-a-Panda. The dogs have wubbly expressive faces and patter around with infectious gaiety, and by the time you unlock the bonus level where they ride around on surfboards dodging buoys and sharks, you may not be in love, but you should be pleasantly smitten.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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