I was sceptical when I was sent a review copy of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs for iPhone and iPod Touch. A game that looked to be a cash-in for the DVD release of a movie which could equally be seen as a cash-in too, and the second sequel to a series that is running out of ideas. However, on booting up the game my fears evaporated, due to two key reasons.
One; it’s developed by Two Tribes of Toki Tori fame… and two; it focuses on Scrat, the Sabor-toothed squirrel and nut freak… undoubtably the best and funniest feature of the three films.
Like Toki Tori, Ice Age is a puzzle platformer. And like most games in this genre you are tasked with solving platform based puzzles to get from point A to B, all the while avoiding enemies (in this case played by prehistoric beasties). It wouldn’t be a Scrat game without nuts, and so dotted around the levels are nuts that can be collected. The main objective is still getting to the end of the level, but with nut collecting as a secondary one and an incentive to replay the levels and find all the nuts.
There are plenty of platform based challenges in Ice Age, they are pretty straight forward in the first world and nine levels, but later they can become real head scratchers, which will require multiple retries to get them right. These range from pushing boulders around to allow scrat to access hard to reach areas, cross ravines or squash enemies, to rearranging stalagtights or drop them from heights to create crossable paltforms. Later levels include tar pits that if Scrat falls in puts him in a floating bubble, which gives you brief flight ability. And frozen caves feature ice sections which with a little help from a well placed boulder can be cracked resulting in whole platforms shattering… it’s in these later levels where the game brings a real a challenge.
Of course all these platforming and puzzle elements wouldn’t be much fun without good controls, and thankfully Two Tribes get these spot on. Instead of using the usual virtual d-pad and A and B buton layout, Ice Age features a touch only control scheme that feels incredibly intuitive. Want scrat to walk over the that boulder at the other end of the screen? Easy, just touch on the boulder and he’ll scurry over. A green highlight indicates when an area can be accessed, and likewise if the route is not possible due to an obsticle, then a red higlight will appear. Scrat can jump by tapping on him. This is useful for dislodging stalagtights or grabbing onto overhead vines. To push boulders simply tap on it when Scrat is near and two directional arrows will appear for you to direct Scrat in which direction to push.
Ice Age certainly looks the part, featuring art lifted directly from the movie. It’s not a 3D game, instead opting for pre-rendered elements in a side scrolling 2D view… much like Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country created by RARE. It’s well animated too, with all the moves and funny reactions you would expect from Scrat.
The game isn’t too shabby in the sound department either, featuring great sound for Scrat as he scuttles and sniffs about, as well as the trademark wimpers of paranoia and the screams as he falls from a great height. The music is suitably cute… but maybe too sweet and repetative for my liking (luckily you can play your own music through the iPod before loading the game).
I was suprised how much I enjoyed Ice Age… I’m still playing it now, trying to get every last nut. As movie tie-ins go it’s a refreshing change. And anyone who’s a fan of Scrat and are looking for a platformer with a lot of charm and genuine challenge, then you can’t really go wrong with Ice Age.
Ice Age is out now from Chillingo for $4.99