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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: Hard Lines (iPhone)

If you’ve played a video game, chances are you’ve played a version of the classic game Snake at some point. You know the one I’m talking about, where you have a little line that you navigate around an enclosed area while trying to eat pixels that make the line grow. Yeah, that one: it’s a game that’s been around since the ‘70’s and is one of those classic video games that are grouped with the likes of Pong and Asteroids. The really interesting thing about Snake, however, is that there have been so many different variations on the basic formula. I mean, heck, Wikipedia lists well over fifty different variants of the game Snake that have been released over the decades. That’s a lot of Snake!

But now we have Hard Lines, a game that takes the basic concept of Snake and turns it on its head by adding new features and game modes and actually giving the game some character. How does it manage that? I’m glad you asked!

Eclectic colours

At first glance, Hard Lines seems little more than an updated version of Snake: the graphics are updated to be more Tron-esque, with electric colors and grids and the whole gamut of futuristic-type stylings. But once you’ve spent some time playing the game you start to realise that developers, Spilt Milk Studios, have done a really great job with the artistic design of this game: every bit of the art seems streamlined and intentional, as if every bit has been thought through and designed to the greatest effect. It’s really quite remarkable, especially considering the game is merely a modern version of a classic game; even despite its humble origins, it comes across as something sophisticated, fun and pretty.

I keep mentioning that Hard Lines is Snake for the modern age but that’s not entirely fair: Hard Lines is actually so much more than just Snake. For starters, there are six different gameplay modes in Hard Lines, all based on the original concept but each with their own unique differences. One of them, titled simply Snake, plays identically to the classic game but actually manages to be more entertaining than its predecessor because your line is given a personality. As soon as the line you controls enters the screen, it will continually offer advice or tell you jokes as you maneuver it around the map. (One of the best ones the line has told me is “A man walks into a doctor’s office. He has a celery up his nose and a carrot in his ear. The doctor takes one look at him and says: ‘You’re not eating right!’” Genius.) This is something that reoccurs in every game mode, though sometimes your line isn’t alone.




All of the other game modes take the original concept and put a spin on it by adding other, AI-controlled lines. In the game mode Survival, which serves as the basic game mode, you are tasked with guiding your line throughout the map to collect the most pips as possible while avoiding the other lines which are trying to cut you off and kill you, Tron lightcycle-style.

It’s quite an entertaining variant to play with and definitely adds a good sense of conflict in such a simple game. This is made even better when the other lines start harassing you as they enter the field, calling you out or commenting on something that just happened. “That was my father!” a blue line cries as it enters the field mere moments after I’ve cut off a purple line. It’s this sort of personality that Hard Lines has in spades, and what makes it so much different from other Snake games.

The other game modes are derivations on Survival: Dead Line gives you a three-minute time limit with which to gain as many points possible; Time Attack has a clock that counts down but is boosted by you picking up pips; Pinata tasks you with killing other lines and then picking up the pips that they leave as remains; and Gauntlet pits you against endless waves of other lines, tasking you with killing as many other lines as possible before you are killed. Each of them is entertaining in its own right and each offers such different challenges it’s very difficult to ever get bored with the game.


No! Not HOURS

On top of all this, Hard Lines boasts some great music for an iPhone game: perhaps it’s no Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, but it still has some catchy tunes and great sound effects. The only thing that could possibly make the sound direction better would be if the lines actually spoke their lines but that would be silly. Lines can’t talk.

Another thing worth mentioning is the control scheme. Or, rather, control schemes: built within Hard Lines is three different control schemes that you can choose from. There is the Swipe option, the Tap option and the Turn option, all of which involve different touch controls to turn your line in game. As you might expect, you either swipe or tap your finger to turn the line, depending on the scheme chosen: with Swipe, the line will turn whichever way to swipe your finger; with Tap, you have to tap which direction you want the line to go; and with Turn, you tap either the left or right side of the screen to turn the line left or right.

I used Swipe for most of my playtime and it is very responsive. I did experience some minor control issues where the line would turn the opposite way I swiped, but this was a rare occurrence and, even when it did result in my death, the game is so easy to pick up and play I didn't mind starting again. The other controls are interesting, though the Turn option is a bit harder to control (at least for me), but it's really admirable that Spilt Milk included the option to play the game differently.

All in all, Hard Lines is a great game. It’s something of a combination of Snake and Tron, which just sounds too good to be true! It’s incredibly entertaining for how simple it is and boasts the most personality in an iPhone game I’ve played in quite some time. I was thoroughly impressed by the presentation of the game and how polished the entire product was. And with all of the different game modes, it’s nearly impossible to get bored with the game: when you’ve had enough of one game type, you can immediately switch over to a different one for a completely different game.

I’d suggest getting Hard Lines as quickly as possible. This is an essential game for any iPhone or compatible iPod user and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Review: Hard Lines (iPhone)
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