Mixing puzzle games with platforming mechanics is nothing new in the App Store. Seeing the success of titles like Cut the Rope and Burn it All, I understand why developers are taking this route: gamers love cute characters!
To-Fu: The Trials of Chi [iTunes Link] by HotGen uses a similar formula, introducing a small tofu cube with Kung-Fu master aspirations, oriental theme from Fruit Ninja and the platforming madness in Super Meat Boy. The game mechanics are as simple as taking To-Fu from point A to B collecting as many Chi orbs as you can in the least amount of moves.
Since your little vegan hero can't walk, you'll need to stretch and release its body, flinging To-Fu around a maze of traps hoping it lands and gets stuck to a safe wall. The game controls are simple enough to get you swiping like a ninja before you remember to pan around to explore the potential dangers hidden around the corner.
Although some traps require synchronised moves, the absence of a time limit in the levels means that the game doesn't penalise you for taking your time. You can either fly through each level to unlock the next one or take a slow paced approach and try to collect all the Chi orbs or complete the level in a limited number of moves. In most of them it will be impossible to reach the orbs and moves target, which guarantees some replay value for the 100 levels included.
The game is visually charming, mixing some 3D elements such as the character, with 2D environments and a set of lighting effects that set the mood just right. In the first version of the game I have noticed some aliasing in the borders. Unfortunately, the level intros and other animations become repetitive quite early into the game and feel unnecessary when you have completed 20 levels already.
Perhaps the strangest part of the game physics is that once you flick To-Fu it will be propelled like a rocket. This is really useful to cross narrow corridors with spikes on the sides or for teleport, where you have to plan the trajectory ahead. Used to games like Angry Birds, where you measure the power of the slingshot and consider the effect or gravitational forces, To-Fu's approach felt too simplistic for my taste. I'd like to see To-Fu to lose speed as it flies across a room. Other than that, the variety of obstacles and traps included is rich and the game design is flexible enough to allow different solutions for the same puzzle.
To-Fu: The Trials of Chi is a great physics platformer for iOS devices that dresses a simple idea with a very original theme. I hope that future updates take care of some of the issues mentioned above, add Game Center integration, include new levels and get rid of the annoying bits. HotGen has done the difficult part already: to create a compelling game that appeals to both casual and seasoned gamers. Now its time to refine some details and show that To-Fu can become a familiar face on the App Store.