Overtly, Impossible Road’s premise is about as simple as they come: guide a rolling ball down a winding pathway for as long as you can. It’s a distance platformer – Super Monkey Ball by way of Super Hexagon – and it manages to be as infuriatingly challenging, yet effortlessly addictive as either of those comparisons.
What isn’t immediately apparent is that falling from the edge of its barrier-less path doesn’t automatically spell game over. Reconnect within seconds, and you can roll on. Fall for too long and the screen fades to white as a dubstep-style electronic ’wub wub wub’ sound salts the wound of your failure. In what is an otherwise simplistic distance runner (or roller), the ability to freefall is an enticing, often infuriating risk-reward proposition; a deeper layer of strategic play that gives its challenge a longevity beyond simply seeing how far you can get.
Whether rolling or falling, Impossible Road is about the tension of teetering on the edge. That edge is both the precipice of the road, testing the speed of your motor neurons as you fly towards an unguarded drop with thunderous momentum, and the upper-boundary of your high score, inducing a muscle-cramping level of concentration as you strive to pass the next gate. Like Terry Cavanagh’s aforementioned hexagonal tumbler, the satisfaction of play arises from self-challenge against these edges. How many blue gates can be crossed before falling from the edge of an increasingly precipitous path? And – how stylishly can it be done? The game tallies the number of freefall-avoided gates – can you bounce straight from 1 to 100 without touching any in between?
It’s fitting that such a stressful, blood pressure raising experience is presented through cool, calming minimalism. Visually, Impossible Road has all the refreshing sterility of a toothpaste advert. The track is a solid, swirling tape of deep-ocean blue painted against pure white-space, pulsing with a shallow tropical turquoise every time your white ball passes a gate. And its stark looks are complimented by an equally minimalistic and infectious soundtrack that thumps out muted electronica, layering with beats and echoes as you build speed.
Impossible Road is aesthetically arresting and momentarily addictive then, but it fails to sustain its experience through variation. It only has one visual style, one soundtrack and even though each path is randomly generated, they’re all much the same to play – combinations of whirling twisters and thinning passages. There’s simply not enough variation here to stretch out its core design, especially in comparison to the longevity provided through variety in other comparable iOS distance platformers.
Still, Impossible Road’s fundamentals are so crisply constructed, so itchingly compelling that its lack of iteration doesn’t completely sour the experience. It might not have the legs to challenge Super Hexagon as the king of abstract twitch iOS gameplay, but it sure gives it a run (or should that be a roll?) for its money.