Red Game Without a Great Name isn’t exactly a title that immediately fills you with confidence. It tells very little about the content of the game, except for one important fact: it’s red, and there is a lot of it. For good and for bad, it’s a fitting colour to express my feelings towards iFun4all’s puzzler.
Let’s start by piecing together the thin plot details: in this game’s post-apocalyptic setting, the only way to communicate in the hostile world is through long distance messaging. Of course, this requires a mechanical bird to navigate 2D levels, avoid hazards and deliver letters from one identical cage to the next. To spice things up, there are a multitude of traps in play, diabolical mechanics to wrap your head around, all while being tasked to locate three “gear” collectibles in each stage.
Almost immediately after swooping into the first level, it’s abundantly clear that the game was developed with mobile devices in mind as you’re introduced to the swiping mechanic. The Vita’s touch screen is used exclusively in controlling your mechanical messenger. While the bird automatically flies forward, you simply drag your finger across the screen and release to teleport the creature to a free space. There’s no limit to the amount of times you’re able to do this, or no restrictions on where you’re able to send the bird. Sounds almost too easy, right?
Wrong. It is built around a simple premise, but don’t let it fool you – it’s legitimately challenging to master. With 5-10-second-long introductory levels, collectibles a mere swipe away and all the space a bird could ask for, you’re immediately lured into a false sense of security. Initially, you won’t think much of auto-scrolling camera; it’s easy to manage your bird’s location with a comfortable amount of space. However, the difficulty will soon blow you away when obstacles are thrown into the mix and the camera quite literally turns on you if you’re caught out of the screen’s view.
Time and time again, you’ll fly right into a death trap and have to restart the level. From barbed wire, to deadly windmill blades, to sharp spikes – you’ll never be far from danger, but there will often be multiple paths to take in order to avoid these hazards. The game’s 60 levels are all well-designed in that regard. Despite being left with a few seconds between deciding where to teleport next, it always feels fair. With quick reflexes and a dash of level memorisation, any level is possible to perfect. The problem is, with such simple, repetitive gameplay, it’s easy for frustration to set in when faced with the game’s technical shortcomings, making long sessions of play impossible to endure.
The touch screen inputs don’t always work the way you’d expect. You could be in the middle of dragging a line between the bird and the other side of a wall blocking its way, and just when you think your swipe was accurate, the bird will fling straight into the wall rather than teleport to the destination you had pointed to. The lack of response is infuriating and far too frequent when one wrong swipe could spell a restart of the entire level. This isn’t the only instance of poor optimisation, as demonstrated by the iffy hit detection. There have been countless times where I’ve teleported the bird to what appeared to be a safe spot, or an opening in a moving obstacle’s pattern, but it’s died regardless. At times, it appears to react to dangerous pixels before reaching them, making it both frustrating and difficult to quickly weave between intricately designed hazards with precision.
And sadly, that’s not where my issues with the game end. I was left feeling confused by the inclusion of a death counter – a feature which feels nothing less than shoehorned in, presumably in an attempt to add challenge, when all it really manages to achieve is even more frustration. In order to complete a level with a “flawless” rating, you must reach the end having collected all three collectibles and without a single death. As the levels are short affairs designed around mobile play, there are no checkpoints. Should your bird get caught up in the camera, barbed wipe, or otherwise, you’ll be zipped straight back to the beginning with one death added to the level’s total. Not a problem however, as the slate can easily be wiped clean with a touch of the “restart” button and you’ll end up in the same position you were a few seconds earlier. There are no real repercussions for dying, no set amount of lives and no satisfaction in staying alive, making you question the feature entirely. It’s just more unnecessary frustration.
To make matters more painful, there is an infuriating bug which frequents the beginning of all levels should you choose to manually restart. Upon releasing the bird from its starting cage and making your first swipe, there is a chance the mechanical creature will appear to get stuck mid-air and freeze for a split second, or choose to spontaneously combust before spawning back at the start. This can happen up to four times in a row before the bird is able to take off freely – and it’s likely to occur with every single restart. Sure, it’s nothing game-breaking, but when coupled with an irritating death system, it’s completely detrimental to the experience, making the game feel like more of a tedious process than a challenge. For completionists like myself spamming the restart button upon failure, it’s a 10-second hindrance per attempt which is sure to haunt you throughout the duration of the game.
If you’re crazy enough to attempt to flawlessly complete the entire game, you’ll be seeing a lot of red – and not because you can’t find that third collectible cleverly hidden away. Most of the levels are painted in a deep blood red, contrasting against the dark silhouettes, while the use of gradients creates a stunning amount of depth. The style is incredibly effective in helping differentiate between the background and the foreground, as well as nailing the steampunk vibe alongside its Victorian-era object design. The presentation is consistently brilliant; it never fails to look slick in action. It’s just a shame that the rest of game isn’t quite up to same standard.
Ironically, Red Game Without a Great Name will be remembered the most for its tragic title, rather than the often dull, uninspired gameplay. Like many cheap mobile puzzlers before it, it offers little more than a simple distraction for long travel journeys. If you’re the patient sort willing to battle with the stressful camera and fiddly controls, as well as endure frustrating technical troubles, then there is certainly a great amount of value to be had from this budget game.