Developer Zach Gage has become known for his retro-yet-inventive contributions to the App Store. Bit Pilot and Unify are two of my favorite iOS games, and I was understandably excited to hear of the release of Halcyon, his newest iPad exclusive game. Halcyon, to my surprise, doesn’t live up to the standard set by Zach’s previous games.
To describe the game succinctly, Halcyon is a game about matching colored arrows as they drift towards each other along several paths. By dragging one’s finger between paths, a detour can be created, and the converging arrows will disappear once they have collided with an arrow of the corresponding color. The game’s fail state is triggered when two arrows of different color collide head on- which triggers an instant failure. Restarting the level because one mistake is made is more than frustrating, especially since the earlier stages are always slow moving. The mechanics feel like an interpretation of the minigame included in Super Mario 64 DS titled, “Mario’s Slides.” Hopefully that reference helped someone.
Halcyon attempts to elevate itself from simple color matching by including a musical component, and it soon becomes clear that Halcyon’s audio style is inspired by Electroplankton. The game takes place on levels that also function as a string instrument, creating mellow notes as one brushes their hand across the screen. These notes aren’t part of a larger melody, so it ends up sounding less like music and more like a jumbled mess. Though it is billed as a musical game, I can’t say that anything I heard would be listenable outside of the context of the game, and often not even within. Compared to the Bit.Trip series, Halcyon does a poor job of integrating character interaction and the game’s soundtrack.
Previous titles from Gage have been visually simple, which went well with their game mechanics and chiptune soundtracks. Halcyon, which seeks to create an air of elegance, should have abandoned the simpler graphical style. I can’t help but feel that the game’s assortment of harp sounds would have been a bit more convincing alongside a more impressive graphical display. While the precision and scope of the line-drawing takes advantage of the iPad’s screen real estate, the graphics fail to take advantage of the iPad’s power.
Had the whole audiovisual experience been more lush, it wouldn’t have altered the game’s actual mechanics. Halcyon is entertaining for a brief window of time. At the outset of a level, there is little to no challenge, but as it progresses it becomes far too hectic- which clashes with the peaceful background noises and seemingly the intent of the game to relax the player. There is a small portion of the game’s difficulty curve where I can enjoy the challenge, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to last all that long. The difficulty feels out of touch with Gage’s previous titles, which have been challenging but manageable.
I really wanted to like Halcyon, especially considering its pedigree, but it just doesn’t feel like a polished experience. The difficulty and visuals need to be tweaked before it gets any more playtime.
Halcyon is available for the iPad only, and is currently on the App store for $3.99