A nest of baby particles has hatched and as their mother it’s time to get them to safety. This is proving to be easier said than done. Not only are the particles a little temperamental themselves, but the mazes you have to guide them through are littered with instant death traps. Life is never easy.
The premise of vParticle+ is a simple one – get the fifty particles from A to B, or in this case, E. Movement is handled by tilting the iPhone and the particles float around gracefully. As you conduct the glowing balls towards the escape route you’ll encounter invisible bricks, shifting platforms, energy fields and movable squares. The mazes fit well onto the screen and any particle crushed or zapped will respawn. Very rarely are you punished for mistakes and forced to restart.
Should you wish to restart the level, the colour scheme changes, from neon pinks and greens to greys and blues. Its vibrancy in colour is similar to Pac Man: Championship Edition DX. It feels like a natural amalgamation of the independent design you’d have found on older systems like the Amiga, and the control methods and opportunities of the iPhone.
The colours are vivid, particles sway as you tilt the screen, the futuristic labyrinths are well designed and there is plenty of content. However, there is lack of game here. I’m reminded of an old toy where you’d try to move the steel ball into the middle of a maze by tilting the box. The small, metallic ball would always miss that final gap and somehow roll itself all the way back to the beginning. vParticle+ is the day-glow update, minus the harsh challenge.
All control comes from the internal accelerometer. Tilting the screen moves the particles around the stages. The accelerometer does suffer from a design flaw – the iPhone needs to be held flat. Playing the game whilst laying down or lounging limits the angles of movement severely. This is one title you won’t be playing in bed. Colours of the particles can also be changed and completely customisable themes are available. Once the sound of the particles bouncing around being repeatedly destroyed wears thin, an iPod playlist can be used in-game to provide a personal soundtrack. A level editor would have tied the customisation together nicely.
Fortunately there are plenty of levels already available. Forty Easy levels ease you into the game. None of them present any real challenge as failure isn’t a possibility, whether you like it or not. Should any of the particles be crushed by a moving platform or fried by an energy field they’ll respawn at the previous checkpoint. Special levels feature various maze designs, and the Challenge mode allows you to collect sandbox particles; collecting enough opens up Sandbox levels. These stages are purely tech demos. Unleashing the particles into a simple pattern or maze, you’re allowed to fling them about the place without the fear of death. It sure does look pretty.
The level structure guides you the majority of the time. You never have to think where to go next. Perhaps this is an issue that lies at the heart of the lack of challenge – the game rarely requires you to think. The paths are often set as one route, and your only opponents are moving blocks that can squash the dashing particles or the energy fields, whose reach is well beyond what its glow suggests.
The final set of stages is the Hard levels. These ten levels provide the games real challenge. In each labyrinth is five sandbox particles to collect, unlocking the next maze. As your particles pass them by, one of them will absorb the new particle and carry it along. However, should that particle be destroyed, it’s gone – no unlocked stage and time to restart. The need for pin-point movement goes against the accuracy of the accelerometer, with moving particles in a straight line, and away from traps, difficult at times.
With no way at failing the vast majority of levels there is a lack of achievement in victory. Beating the developer times feels more by chance than skill and some of the level design requires luck; especially when spawning towards a hazard. Sure, further level sets and modes are unlocked, but these lack that feel of triumph. Completing a labyrinth informs you of how many particles you’ve rescued. Strange information to display as it suggests that at one point in game design the constant respawns might have been limited.
With some fine tuning and attention to creating a rewarding experience, vParticle+ could become a must-have iOS title. Currently it feels more like a trial for the final product. Even with the lack of challenge and the minimal accomplishment, vParticle+ has an aesthetic that works, handles well and is a smooth, if not simple, experience while it lasts.