Thursday, September 8, 2011

iPhone App Review: Sprinkle

Water is very difficult to get right in video games, whether it’s the pitter-patter of raindrops or huge expanses of ocean, if it looks even the slightest bit unnatural it can ruin even the most involving sequence. But when it’s done right it’s easy to just stand and stare, marvelling at the realism.
Examples? Crysis does it well, as does Half-Life 2 and Cryostasis, while Super Mario Sunshine‘s sparkling blue water is so inviting it’s impossible not to want to dive in! Now another title can be added to the list, and surprisingly it’s a mobile game for the iPhone and iPad. Its name is Sprinkle, and the water is almost unnaturally realistic.
It’s not really about the look though, but about the way it moves and is influenced by other objects. The game is set on another planet, which thanks to some interstellar littering has a problem with fiery meteors burning down the friendly inhabitant’s homes. It’s up to you, armed with a fire engine and a limited amount of water, to put out the fires and save the day.
The game plays out like many other physics-based puzzlers – Angry Birds for example – in that you’re presented with a single screen and a series of objectives, in this case various fires to put out. The hose on your fire engine is mounted on an extendable arm which can be raised and lowered, while the nozzle can be pivoted up and down to direct the flow of water more accurately.
While the early levels are simple enough, Sprinkle soon starts to up the cunning level for the puzzles, introducing movable blocks, spinning wheels, crevices through which water must be directed and some unexpected meteor hits. To overcome all of this, you’ll need to be a crack shot with the water jet – meaning the game lives and dies by its watery physics.
Thankfully, they’re superb. The water jet splashes around the scenery, gathers in corners, explodes geyser-like from small gaps and acts in exactly the way you expect it to when you shoot it at a wall. When you stop shooting, it sloshes around and does what gravity tells it, allowing you to create a strategy based, more-or-less, in reality.
Controlling your fire engine and hose is simple, with a single button to start the stream and a swipe up and down for the elevation and direction change of the nozzle. Sprinkle is a universal app for the iPhone and iPad, and as the fire engine and the ‘fire’ button are placed on opposite sides of the screen, it can take slightly longer to make the small adjustments needed to fight the fires on the iPad over the iPhone.
Levels are completed with a one-to-five water droplet rating, and in an unusual twist you need to have earned a certain amount of droplets to unlock later levels. The amount of droplets you earn is dictated by how much water you have left once all the fires are out, and being conservative with your allocation isn’t easy as it’s so damn satisfying to squirt it all over the place!
On each level, the little aliens whose homes are at risk are always around, and not only do they look and sound very cute, but they’re so very disappointed when you fail to stop their house being razed to the ground it’s quite an incentive not to let it happen. Add in a catchy little soundtrack and you’ve got an adorable game certain to melt even the hardest of hearts.
So what’s it like to play? Sprinkle is very, very good, but it doesn’t quite meet the dizzy, addictive heights of Angry Birds. There are two main reasons why: the first is the difficulty with which the fires are extinguished. For all the watery brilliance, it doesn’t seem to matter where you aim it at the fires, as they often refuse to completely go out even after being dowsed with gallons of the blue stuff. It gets annoying when a tiny flame suddenly pops up and threatens to ruin your score; especially when the droplets are increasingly more valuable.
The second is directly related to the first, as having to gather droplets to progress to later levels is a hateful, artificial way to make a short game feel longer. With just over 40 levels, accomplished players would complete Sprinkle in a short time without this barrier, but there’s nothing worse than having to replay levels you didn’t do well on before, just because the game makes you. The iTunes blurb clearly states how many levels there are, so buyers know what they’re getting. Just provide a challenging minimum for each level so players can move past the awkward ones.
These two points aside, Sprinkle is a clever, cute and often highly enjoyable mobile game, and should be considered a must-download for lovers of highly polished, physics-based puzzle games and fans of awesome water effects alike.


Post a Comment