iOS Game Review:¬† Niko
Niko is a platformer from Habbo Hotel creators, Sulake.¬† It is worthy of comment for two reasons:¬† Firstly, it has some level of integration with Habbo Hotel, a hugely successful and popular virtual world that has been one of the innovators of micro transactions and secondly, it resolves a lot of problems that platform games have on a touch screen device.
The Habbo Hotel integration isn’t something I’ve been able to experience having not tried Habbo Hotel itself and whilst also being allergic to micro-transactions themselves. It is significant however that Sulake are turning their gaze to mobile devices, and monetising a mobile market is a particular challenge that is coming up fairly frequently as part of my day job.
I’m yet to make up my mind whether what Niko is doing is a clever step towards a virtual economy shared between platforms and titles, or whether it is just straight forward cross promotion.¬† My guess is that it’s the latter, but setting a decent foundation for the former.
Moving away from scraping the surface of greater media implications, in terms of actual gameplay, it’s decent, playable, and a lot more enjoyable than this sort of thing is normally.¬† You control Niko, an odd looking cyber-lemur, who is trying to rescue his friends that have been kidnapped.¬† Plot wise it’s barely ground breaking, but it worked for Sonic so there’s no reason it shouldn’t work again.¬† You don’t need a complicated plot to set up running and jumping.
The main problem that iOS will always face as a gaming platform is the lack of buttons.¬† This is made doubly frustrating when it comes to something like a platformer, which requires a certain amount of dexterity as well as decent reaction times to progress.¬† The aforementioned Sonic for example plays terribly on iOS and I’ve played several platformers that very quickly fall into frustration as soon as there is any pressure on you. ¬†Most of the time, they feel as if you are clutching at a regular control pad that’s coated with oil and whose buttons don’t always work, possibly upside down. Niko manages to fix this with some a simple twist to the mechanics.
The jump is more than just a simple button tap, but incorporates dragging back to fire your cyber-lemur into the air, a lot like catapulting your Angry Birds across the screen, and once you hit a wall, the normal reaction is for you to stick to it, giving you enough time to react to your jump and allowing for a certain degree of sloppiness on your aiming or reactions.
Obviously this change in the jumping mechanics is going to affect the pacing. ¬†Instead of Mario or Sonic, Niko takes its time, varying the more plodding pace with sections where you are flung through the air by springy mushroom things.¬† These actually make me think of the barrels in Donkey Kong Country, and in fact the pacing is not dissimilar.
The style is perfectly charming.¬† I like the Niko character sprite, and were I a little younger the design would definitely appeal to me a lot more.¬† It’s smart and polished and there’s very little to criticise.¬† The only thing I’m not terribly fond of is the noise the little lemur thing makes when he’s about to jump as it does make me think he’s in just a small amount of pain or about to throw up.¬† The music also loops with a fraction of a second gap which I find incredibly jarring, although it redeems itself by being perfectly catchy-yet-not-annoying whilst building to a descent crescendo before it loops.
There are few rough edges here.¬† What Niko does right should be written down and passed around among other developers who are thinking of making a platformer with a touch screen interface. ¬†At the same time it’s still difficult to fully recommend or rave about.¬† The title is free, but it’s little more than a demo without putting down the ¬£1.50 to unlock further levels.¬† Just writing that out makes me feel ridiculous: A lot of time and effort has gone into this to make it a decent and playable game, yet I’m reluctant to pay ¬£1.50, and I‚Äôm not completely sure why.¬† I think it might be my inherrant suspicious nature when it comes to small bits of money leaving my account, but it could also be because whilst I enjoyed the handful of levels I was given for free, there was nothing there that made me desperate to see what more it had to offer.
Maybe Niko caught me at a bad time, maybe I’ve played all the platformers I’m likely to rave about, or maybe that first free world was enough to feel like a small micro-game; small yet perfectly formed.¬† Regardless, Niko is worth a look, is well made and you might find something there that you could invest in further.
Verdict: Pretty good, free demo, some spectacular design decisions