Version tested: iPhone
With so many mobile games these days apparently designed to save you even the merest hint of stress and exertion - bombarding you with points and prizes whatever level of success or failure you attain, because you really are a special little snowflake - it's nice to change things up once in a while with a game that is neither easy nor particularly rewarding. At least not in the frivolous sense 'rewarding' has come to mean.
Hoggy, by Raptisoft, doesn't shower you with stars, high scores and multipliers every time you paw your iPhone, it doesn't give you much acknowledgement that you're doing well, and it doesn't even tell you when you've cocked up a level irretrievably and need to start again, leaving you to figure it out. All the same it's quite wonderful.
It's a platform puzzler that looks a bit like various Super Mario Bros. games and involves collecting fruit in 2D multi-screen levels. You manoeuvre around by tilting left and right, but you can't jump or attack or anything - instead you jump between and stick to the floor and ceiling by tapping the screen. Collect all the fruit and you get a key; get a certain number of keys and you can unlock the next chamber of levels in the hub area you move around in between them.
The magic of it is the level design, because each of the game's many stages (a surprisingly large initial selection are free) is generally very different to the last. Sometimes you have to flip between floor and ceiling dodging critters, sometimes you need to time your tilting to avoid their set movement patterns, sometimes you need to collect a power-up to smash a block to reach things, sometimes you need to smash a block to let an enemy fall into a gap to get him out of the way, sometimes you need to headbutt movable blocks to make space, sometimes there are exploding blocks or blocks you can switch on and off. On and on it goes. The visual language is remarkably intuitive but you still feel a sense of achievement whenever you work out and execute a solution.
You've played games like it before, as it borrows heavily from 8- and 16-bit classics. Look out for switch palaces, familiar enemy types, ice blocks, and an art style and general ambiance that's always evocative of something you remember liking, even of you can't quite put your finger on it. But while its derivations are numerous, they also include a fierce devotion to fairness and simplicity, so even the toughest rooms give up their fruit to you after enough attempts.
They certainly can be tough. Be prepared to bang your head off more than a few once you graduate past the starter challenges. Obviously you can't throw your controller at the screen in these days of tablets and phones like you would in the old days, but you do sometimes thump the seat next to you on the train or clench a paper cup to death in frustration. Mostly because it's always your fault.
There are plenty of puzzle games and platform titles available for your phone or tablet by now, including plenty of good free ones. What sets Hoggy apart is its old-school mentality. It reminds you of a simpler time before experience points and 'unlocks', when all this was snow, fields and Green Hill Zones. It's all that, delivered with the subtle finesse of a modern smartphone release.
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