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App of the Day: Temple Run

Tomb Runner.

You know, much as we all love them, touch-screens are probably beginning to hold up the evolution of our species.

"Huh," you're thinking. "What do you mean by that? Are you referring to the way we've become enslaved to tools that impede our understanding and control of art and the written word by reducing our interaction with them to sliding pictures under glass? Or are you, perhaps, suggesting that by restricting our self-expression to a crude suite of gestures, taps, pinches and awkward attempts at typing, generations to come may find their natural dexterity retarded by the hereditary misconceptions our new behaviour is beginning to program into our genes?"

Your friends' scores appear as you play.

Sure thing! But really I meant we're too addicted to 'running' games to get off the couch.

Temple Run has been around for a while but, in the spirit of getting our mobile coverage caught up with the times, it seems like a good choice for our first App of the Day in this wonderful little touch-screen genre. Developed by Imangi Studios, it's about legging it through ancient ruins pursued by evil monkeys and using the iPhone or iPad touch-screen to avoid mounting peril.

Rather than running from left to right, however, Temple Run is a third-person affair, and rather than tapping you need to flick upward to hop over the roots of trees, flames and large gaps that you encounter in the crumbling ruins, rotting jetties and moss-covered stone paths underfoot. Not only that, but you have to swipe left and right to turn corners, and flick downward to go into a limbo slide that greases you under towering tree trunks and gateways adorned with skulls.

You're allowed the occasional slight stumble - although the monkeys at your back will close in, raising the tension - but if you put a foot seriously wrong, overshooting a turn or landing in croc-infested waters, it's game over. The difficulty is heightened by your increasing speed and the shortening distances between turns, which generally accumulate until you're swiping this way and that in a frenzy to stay on track.

As you run, you can tilt left and right to move your little runner across the path and collect gold coins and power-ups. Coins can be spent on increasing the duration of power-ups and unlocking alternative avatars, and Temple Run is yet another running game where you can increase your high-score multiplier through repeat play by completing various objectives - cross a score threshold, use a revival power-up twice in the same run, and so on.

It's all wonderfully put together, and after stumbling around gingerly going off-track to collect more coins, the Pavlovian thrill of collecting a magnet power-up, which draws nearby coins into you, or the comfort of having a revival power-up active to catch you if you fall, or the relief that you feel when you pass your friend's Game Center-backed high-score marker on your latest run, are as powerfully compelling as anything in the last 12 months of gaming.

You can buy more coins in microtransactional bursts if you're inclined, but this isn't a game where I ever felt I had to do so; even when you're just grinding for coins, it's horribly compulsive. Once you set a score over a few million and start running out of objectives it loses its pull, but it would be churlish to complain about that in a free app where I've now attempted 376 runs - most of which last for several minutes. Temple Run is the perfect timesink, evolution be damned.

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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