‘Tremors in space‘ could be the PR tagline for Golden Ruby Games’ touchscreen swipe-a-thon. Abandoned in an intergalactic underground facility, our would-be-hero Zeke must escape from a giant worm that has been accidentally excavated during a recent mining operation. Unlike most ’80s sci-horror flicks of a similar thematic nature, there’s no happy ending for the sole survivor in Worm Run, or indeed for ourselves.
“A design sin: player discomfort”Moving Zeke in the required direction is done by rapidly swiping across the width of the touchscreen, a method simple enough in premise but not without downfalls in execution. The randomised nature of Worm Run‘s environments – a feature growing in popularity creates obstacles that are too narrow and precise to be navigated via wild swipes. The constant motion of a fingertip dragging across the screen results in a design sin: player discomfort. Taking Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into account, psychological and safety needs are key states of mind prior to enjoyment and reward.
Physical discomfort in interactive entertainment is rarely a positive. I say rarely because of the one exception to this otherwise consistent rule: International Track & Field on PlayStation. The competitive nature that Konami’s arcade sports title encouraged has yet to be matched in its genre. Tips of fingers were licked to reduce further blisters forming as skin was rapidly rubbed across controller buttons, the index finger of the left hand ready for any leaps, jumps, throws or flips upcoming. It was undoubtedly an attractive sight to all those not involved. For Worm Run, however, the lack of a competitive nature gives no reason for enduring discomfort.
This is a shame, as the pixel art direction and ‘90s influenced soundtrack aren’t completely without merit. With each attempt Zeke makes to escape there is a reward based on the amount of grubies collected – the in-game currency – to spend in the Deep Dig Corp. company store. The high price of the items here are a clear indicator that progression and balance, therefore possible enjoyment and reward, are available only to those that wish to part with real money via in-app purchases.
No amount of online scoreboards or pixel aesthetic will nurture a bond with an audience when the fundamentals fail. Worm Run should never have been an iOS game. The awkward touchscreen controls forced upon a 2D platformer cause physical discomfort and turns the difficulty ramp up from a hard incline to near vertical. Instead, a low-key PC release with controller support would have been better suited. It wouldn’t have resolved all issues, a straight port never will, but it would have lowered the hurdles that cause a barrier to entry here.