App of the Day: The Naked Gun: ICUP

Double Drebin.

Comedy is a tricky beast at the best of times, doubly so where games are concerned, as vital elements such as timing and nuance are often left up to the player rather than the creative team. The idea of bringing the distinctive surreal spoofery of The Naked Gun to games is a bold venture then, and it comes as no surprise that DNA Interactive has been unable to recapture that mercurial Zucker Brothers style.

With Leslie Nielsen taking his fart machine to the great cockpit in the sky, you're stuck playing as Frank Drebin Jr, son of Nielsen's original character. Gameplay looks, at first glance, to be very much in the classic LucasArts point-and-click mould, but it doesn't take long to realise that puzzles aren't really on the menu.

Cases can be collected from Frank's desk at the ICUP office, handed out by other characters, or else sent your way via police radio or by phoning the police station robot. All follow a similar 'find the object' format, sending you to explore the game's ten or so locations. Some cases have multiple stages, and feel fairly robust. Others are simply a question of finding a bicycle or a cat.

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The locations look good, but precision tapping on the iPhone screen is a problem.

There are also dozens of collectables to find, strewn across the game. Empty tin cans, lost police paperwork, cockroaches: all can be picked up or squished, then turned in at key locations in return for a few cents of the game's currency. You can use this to buy hints from an in-game snitch, or to purchase new furniture and costumes for Drebin's apartment.

You can, inevitably, also top up your money by spending some of your own, but it's hilariously unnecessary. Pretty much everything in the game gives you more cash, either by tapping on it or performing basic tasks, so it's unclear as to why anyone would feel compelled to buy extra.

That sums up The Naked Gun, in a strange sort of way. It's insubstantial and often pointless, but it's also oddly charming. It's fully voiced, and while the gags never come close to the TV show or movies, it eventually finds a mildly amusing voice of its own. It's also endearingly eager to please, breaking up the wander-and-gather core gameplay with silly mini-games.

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Characters like Nordberg and Ed Hocken appear, but they too seem to be the sons of the originals.

There are several shooting galleries, a ghoulish ragdoll physics challenge where you must guide a suicide victim down to a lower floor, and a late attempt at spoofing the impenetrable interrogations from L.A. Noire. None can be failed, and your only penalty is a bad score, so there's no frustration or obstacles to progress.

It only takes a few hours to play through this first chapter, which ends rather abruptly, but for all its disappointments I found myself warming to this dumb but enthusiastic entertainment hybrid. It's the sort of game that benefits from setting expectations low, and then waiting to see what it throws at you next.

The Naked Gun brand is probably the game's biggest problem, since it sets expectations too high for the comedy elements to match. It's probably best not to think about what Telltale Games could have done with this license. Scrape that away, pretend it's just a weird cop game mash-up, and ICUP's charms are easier to find. It's certainly not the best game on the App Store, but it is one of the most unique, and that's got to count for something.

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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