App of the Day: Rinth Island

Tubular belle.

The first obvious point of reference for gamers of a certain age is Nebulus, John M. Philips' flashy puzzle-platformer that first released in the 8-bit era. The title's most striking, defining feature was a clever piece of graphical trickery: a 3D tower that rotated as the player moved left or right.

Rinth Island follows the same basic design template, each of its levels structured as a vertical tube, around which you must shove blocks, flip switches, clamber up and down ladders and blow stuff up until you reach your goal.

If the concept is '80s, the visual inspiration is pure noughties. Redolent of Nintendo's Wind Waker and Capcom's Zack and Wiki, the eponymous island is all charm, your adventure beginning as two friends are washed up on shore after a violent storm.

As cute and easy on the eyes (and ears, with its infectious sea shanty jingles) as it is, this is a genre that lives or dies on the strength of puzzle design. And it's here that Rinth Island shines.

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The pieces of each 3D jigsaw come in many forms, with seriously sharp thinking required to complete the hardest stages.

Simple enough at first, the game quickly offers up brain-bleedingly tricky stages, some of which have left me utterly befuddled for hours before the penny - or, rather, boulders in the correct order - finally dropped. Difficulty is little uneven, with occasional vicious spikes impeding progress (or possibly I'm just a bit thick), but the satisfaction of completion is huge.

There's much to admire in the design and clever layouts. So it was frustrating to discover there's no free camera - in other words, no way of rotating to assess all parts of a puzzle unless your character is able to move there.

I was delighted, then, to see that a free camera was added into the recent update. Until I realised I had to pay for it as part of a one-off in-app purchase that includes solutions for each stage. Which is also the case with the "rewind" undo feature.

Look, if you want to give people the option to pay for solutions, character outfits, accessories etc., fine. But charging extra for what should be core gameplay functionality? Dodgy.

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Additional game modes - in which you collect crystals or are tracked by time or number of steps taken - add a lot of worthwhile replay value.

It's a odd misjudgment for a title that is so generous elsewhere: 30 free levels just added with more on the way, and an impressively robust, flexible level editor that lets you share your best brain-teasers and try others' for not a penny more than the asking price.

The other slight frustration is with control. There's a "touch" option that's simply awful, or a virtual d-pad. Which works well enough, as Rinth Island is a game that requires your synapses to be on fire rather than your reflexes, but it suffers from the same precision issues these awkward, half-way house touch screen solutions always do.

Despite these unfortunate issues, I'd still heartily recommend Rinth Island. It's a fiendishly well-designed, endearing and moreish puzzle game with solid replay value and an open door for fresh user-generated content.

But the truth is, it'd be even better on a games console.

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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