One of the most downloaded paid games in the last week is a remake of Nokia's snake game “Snake’97”. This simple emulator uses the skins of mobile phones of the late nineties as controllers and it looks like people are loving the idea. I'm all in for remakes, but surely there has to be something better than turning your iPhone into a Nokia 3310.
Whenever I see a new name in App Store's top 25, I quickly go and read the description hoping it will be the next big thing. Very often, it's only a crappy freemium game or a novelty app, making me feel disgusted and out of touch with that majority of users. Fortunately, thanks to Carter Dotson and his interview with the developer in The Portable Gamer podcast, I discovered the best iOS game inspired by Nokia’s snake - and yes, it's nowhere near the top chart positions.
Hard Lines [iTunes Link] by Spilt Milk Studios is the superb take on the classic Nokia snake, mixing Tron light cycles mechanics, awesome game modes and a pixelated retro look that works really well on both iPhone and iPad screen resolutions.
Welcoming you with hardcore techno tracks (or something similar), the game sets you in the mood for a fast-pace arcade experience. In all the game modes available, the premise is similar: control your yellow line swiping on the screen and either collect sparking items - namely “glowy things” - or destroy enemy lines.
Using a black canvas as the arena - might I say The Grid - the rules are already familiar: avoid the edges of the screen, don't crash into other lines and collect as many goodies as possible to get extra score multipliers. All this, of course, taking 90 degree turns only.
It takes some seconds to get used to the control schemes and I still miss the physical feedback of the rubber keypad in old Nokia mobile phones. On the iPad I found difficult to do extreme 180 degree turns, which opponents keep using, but it adds to the difficulty of a game that relies on eye-hand coordination so heavily. For smaller iOS devices, I recommend using the alternative tap controls, where you can either use the whole screen as a dpad (called “tappy”) or tap only on the right and left sides of the screen (called “turny”).
Game modes for your taste
The biggest advantage of Hard Lines compared with other alternatives is the variety of game modes included. Instead of just going for either a light cycle or a snake game type, the developer has thrown a number of options in between to suit everyone's tastes. I often try different modes depending on my mood too.
In Survival you compete with other lines to collect glowy things until you die, Dead Line has a 3 minute time limit to do your best, in Time Attack your score gives you extra countdown seconds, in Piñata you ’eat’ the particles of dead lines and Gauntlet is the fantastic hardcore mode.
I couldn't finish the review without mentioning the comedy in such an arcady title. It turns out that your line is called Lionel and will talk to you during the game. Other lines also talk when they join the grid and when they die, which adds a distraction element and plenty of humorous notes. I won't reveal any to avoid spoiling it, but follow my tip and go to the tutorial when you first play the game.
Hard Lines is sold as a Universal app but includes a special extreme mode in HD for iPad users as DLC content, something I've never seen before but makes sense. While the latest version supports Game Center, it's only leader boards and achievements - a lost opportunity since multiplayer could make this game epic if they find a way to integrate respawning in the game modes.
As I said earlier, relying in the App Store charts to find the good stuff is probably a bad approach. Those who dig a bit deeper and bother to check the iPhone Quality Index or AppShopper will be rewarded with original true gems like Hard Lines.