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App of the Day: Penny Time

Baby I'm board.

It's odd that Penny Time should celebrate the anarchic, anti-establishment nature of skateboarding, only to then submit to one of the most punishing authorities of all: rhythm. Here you skate to the beat, pulling off hippies (it's a boarding term, you filthy animals), ollies and slides within coloured markers. Screw up the timing, or pick the wrong move, and you'll fall off - or 'stack', as the game would have it - and it's all the way back to the last checkpoint with you. In other words, this is a game that asks you to stick two fingers up to the system by following the most exacting of rules. It's a curious irony in a very strange little game.

That's not to say that it's entirely new, of course. If you've played the likes of Bit.Trip Runner or Tomena Sanner (you know, that weird one with the dancing salaryman) you'll know what to expect. Here, instead of sprinting through rapidly scrolling environments, you're skating past a series of hazards frozen in time thanks to the bizarre temporal properties of your board. As you approach each obstacle, you'll see a coloured circle: if it's white you need to swipe up to ollie over it; blue, and it's a hippie jump; yellow, and you'll have to slide underneath it.

The problem with swipes rather than taps in a rhythm game is a familiar one, as anyone who played Rhythm Paradise will attest. You're never entirely sure whether you're supposed to start the swipe as the beat hits or to start a split-second before so your finger leaves the screen at the exact point your skater passes through the middle of the circle. After a while, you acclimatise, but it never feels entirely comfortable, and seemingly perfect flicks can result in a bail, with little feedback to determine what you did wrong.

That sounds like a pretty ruinous problem for a rhythm-based game, but Penny Time just about gets away with it, partly thanks to the verve of its visual style. Deliberately angular and flat-textured, it's like Another World meeting Tony Hawk in a Katamari Damacy level. It sounds even better: the music is a head-nodding brand of lazy electronica that works the pops and clacks of the board and trucks into its rhythms.

Best of all, there's a delicious element of risk involved. In the first section of a stage you'll amass a score based on the timing of your moves, while the next set of circles boosts that with multipliers, up to 3x per circle for immaculate timing. Then you need to choose whether to cash in your points tally or skate on for the potential reward of a much greater score, albeit with the possibility of losing it all on a single stack. The knife-edge tension of a perfect run is what keeps you coming back, more than the unlockable skaters, gear and achievements.

It can be a little flaky at times, with notifications in particular throwing it for a loop, but there's both charm and challenge in this rough diamond. Take a risk and chances are you'll find Penny Time to be a pretty gnarly ride.

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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