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Petri-Dash Review (iOS)

Petri-Dash is the new title by Distorted Poetry and there are a number of games that it brings to mind, but none are quite the same. The closest point of comparison is the iOS mega-hit Osmos. While both titles share a superficial interest in the lives of microscopic organisms swimming around in a sea of primordial goo, Petrie-Dash is more stylised and cartoonish. It does away with the harder edge of its science-y counterpart and adopts a brighter, pleasingly pastel shaded aesthetic.

In fact, its gentle colour palette and changing background colour make it most similar in appearance to another iOS success story: Tiny Wings. As a simple but compulsive pick up and play game, Petrie-Dash gets many of the basics right, but a few wrong too. It may not be up to the standard of some for the games I have already mentioned, but it’s still a pleasing way to spend idle minutes when standing in a queue at the bank, waiting for a late friend at lunch or while your more expensive apps are updating over a slow 3G connection.

The first element that Distorted Poetry get right is the controls. Your little amoeba is constantly on the move, and all you are required to do is touch either side of the screen to turn him left or right. Viewed from a top down perspective, you swim away from ugly trilobyte-ish enemies and towards little red crosses which represent food. Your only other available move is to dash, which costs you even more of your constantly depleted energy. You can dash through enemies to kill them, but you are often better simply dodging around them.

This control set proves to be responsive and satisfying. Crucially the “feel” of the game is spot on and your avatar moves at a fair speed and turns quickly when you need him to. Weaving between the bigger enemies is satisfying and when you take damage it always feel like your own fault rather than the fault of the controls. The quality of games on smart phones relies more on the control scheme than any other platform, and in this regard Digital Poetry have succeeded.

Other aspects of the game though are less impressive. There are two main modes, time attack and endless. Both have issues. The endless mode is the most immediately satisfying and you quickly become absorbed in the gameplay, darting between enemies and picking the little multiplier power-ups while collecting food. Its only after four or five minutes that you realise there’s a problem: the game is too easy. I’m not the greatest with touchscreen controls, but as long as I was careful I could probably play this mode…. well, endlessly! Perhaps this is the point, but I couldn’t help but think it would be more satisfying if the game got progressively more difficult. Maybe it does, but if that’s true it’s at such a slow pace that I didn’t notice. Instead, I only died through lack of attention as my interest waned.

The time attack mode meanwhile is fun, but the overlaid timer is displayed throughout the game prominently in the middle of the screen. Its very distracting. Surely it could have appeared briefly every 30 seconds as a reminder, then count down the for the last ten seconds? As it is, it detracts from the otherwise smart visuals and is something you’ll want to avoid.

The music meanwhile is charmingly retro, but painfully low quality. The games I look to in my spare moments are the ones that have a tune I enjoy, and in this case the developers have missed a trick. With a catchy wee tune they were so close at winning my spare moments from other titles, but when Robot Unicorn Attack is so close at hand, they are likely to lose out.

Like many of the other issues, the music could be easily fixed in an update. The endless mode could be rebalanced and the regular mode could have a more sensible method for displaying the time. A pause button wouldn’t hurt either. Meanwhile, you get the feeling that the whole thing is only one clever gameplay mechanic away from being great. Osmos has a growing player character, Tiny Wings has a combo system for chaining jumps and Jetpack Joyride has a whole suite of micro achievments. If Petri-Dash similarly had one great central gimmick it would be an essential title because it gets the gameplay fundamentals so right. As it is at the moment though, it’s a good time killer and you won’t regret the 69p ($0.99) purchase.

6 bacilli being brilliant out of 10

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