These days, gaming is all about getting physical: tilting and shaking, shouting and whispering and now apparently the occasional bit of pinching and smacking. Sounds like fun!
All this talk of touching reminds me of a great toy I had, back in my student days: Bop It. A group of us would play together, flicking, spinning, bopping, pulling and twisting to a never-ending funky beat. The experience was intensely physical, surprisingly fun and overwhelmingly frustrating.
Clearly inspired by Bop It, Smack Me transports the toy’s increasingly furious antics to our handheld Apple devices. The question is, does the iPhone have what it takes to support such a tangible experience?
Ever since hearing Add N to X’s electro-anthem Plug Me In, I’ve known that robots can be a little naughty. It’s no surprise then that FunMobility’s latest iPhone game features a naughty bot repeatedly demanding to be pinched, shaken and smacked. It may be painful but we all know he really loves it.
Literally getting to grips with the gameplay is super-simple. Ito the robot is a demanding sort of guy — he’ll be barking orders at you in his electronic voice. If Ito shouts, “Smack me,” you tap the screen, if he hollers, “Shake me,” you shake the iPhone and, if he firmly requests, “Pinch me,” you give the screen your best multi-touch pinch.
There are three game modes — Easy, Medium and Hard. Completing the Easy mode also unlocks two extra orders from Ito: “Freeze me,” which is kind of a curve ball as you’re meant to stay perfectly still, and, “Lift me,” where you’ll have to quickly raise the iPhone (a vertical shake, if you will).
The limited, but moderately engaging, gameplay is wrapped up in the most fantastic graphics and sound, like a special candy for geeks: it looks and sounds delicious, the audiovisual experience is akin to having a retro rainbow blasted straight in to your brain-box.
The music bleeps and bloops along, faster and faster, as Ito barks his digital orders at you. The ever-changing soundtrack is accompanied by an continuously shifting visual as each of the robot’s requests arrives accompanied with an odd explanatory image too.
Once you’ve played a few rounds and given the robot a good pinching, shaking, smacking, freezing and lifting, there’s nothing else to it. It’s the same thing, ad infinitum but increasingly faster, with different music. Indeed it’s fun for a while but there’s just no depth — nothing beyond the initial ten minutes of play.
Plus, there’s no true multiplayer mode either. Where Bop It really came in to its own was multiplayer mode: there would be hours of secret solo practice before the toy inevitably came out at a party with everybody wanting to grab at this strange, noisy object.
The iPhone isn’t designed for fast-paced pass-and-play games and, rightly so: it’s no fun to watch folks slap ‘n shake your iPhone then throw it to the next person to do the same. It’s sado-masochism for tech-fetishists and I’m just not in to that. All that said, the game does feel like it’s missing some kind of formal multiplayer element.
If I judged Smack Me based upon the first ten minutes of play, I would be exalting its delights. The artwork captures that classic 8-bit vibe in such a way that my inner-geek is awkwardly jumping for joy. The sound is old school lo-fi and frequently funny — locking in with the graphics like two missing pieces from a giant retro jigsaw.
Ten minutes passes though and, assuming you unlock the extra functions, you’ve seen it all, and done it all, repeatedly. You’ll get bored, feel disappointed at spending three bucks on this, hit the home key and check your email, Ito’s tinny robo-voice fading in to the distance.
The issue is that the game doesn’t have enough depth, particularly in relation to its price. Now if this was a quick-fix 99 cent time-waster, my opinion may well be different. Unfortunately it’s not 99 cents, it’s three whole bucks and, as such, my opinion isn’t wholly positive. This is fun, but fun that is priced way above its station — despite the polish — due to a lack of depth.