The creators of Labyrinth 2, Sway – and of course Touchgrind – get peddling with their latest title…
Touchgrind BMX is a sequel of sorts, or a second entry in the series. The first was Touchgrind, or now as it will dubbed ‘Touchgrind Skate’. Released back in 2008, at the time it was an extremely impressive title that really showed not only what the iDevices could do graphically, but also the potential for multitouch controls. To many though, Touchgrind felt very much like a polished tech demo. Touchgrind BMX, however, has certainly got more game.
Touchgrind BMX has many similarities to Touchgrind Skate, in that you play it as if your fingers are your legs. In Skate this played out like the tech deck toys (mini finger skateboards), and in BMX it’s no different.
You place one finger (in my case my middle finger) on the front of the bike, and another (my index finger) on the saddle. Doing this will immediately cause your bike to move forward. Turning is simply a matter of moving your top finger left to right, while holding down with the rear. Slowing down is executed by lifting your rear finger off the saddle, which emulates using the front breaks.
Tricks are pulled off by twisting and spinning your fingers in various directions. The simplest are tail whips and bar spins. After taking a jump you flick one finger left or right across the screen while keeping the other finger still. If you flick the back you do a tail whip, and the front a bar spin. The speed of your flicks will dictate the amount of spins or whips. You must then catch the tail or bar with your flicked finger to straighten up your bike before landing.
Full bike spins are similar but you use both fingers and flick the bike in the desired direction while in the air. Again you must catch the bike to land safely. Flips on the other hand require you to hold your fingers in the desired direction just before a jump. They have a similar effect on the bike as spins, but flips emulate the rider travelling with the bike, instead of spinning the bike beneath them.
The object of the game is to tie as many tricks together and to score the most points possible. Multipliers can be saved up by pulling off more than one trick in each jump, and using a variety of tricks instead of the same ones over and over. Each step in a multiplier increases your scores however, should you crash at any time your multipliers cease to be.
I mentioned that BMX is more of a game than Skate, and that is purely down to the objectives. Each BMX course features a set list of objectives to complete. These can be as simple as scoring a set number of points, or more level centric tasks such as doing a flip off of a particular piece of scenery. Completing tasks unlocks extra features, such as paint for your bike, new models of bike – including the likes of a tricycle – and more importantly new courses to ride. There are a tonne of different objectives and they vary course-to-course, keeping things fresh and interesting throughout, though they are no push over.
The biggest difference to skate is that BMX is presented in a totally different view. Skate was purely a top down game. It was 3D, but you could only view the skateboard and course from a birds-eye view. This made it very hard to see what was coming up, and only those who studied the skate parks knew where to go. BMX on the other hand follows a more conventional behind-the-bike viewpoint, akin to most 3D racing games. This is far more suitable for play, as it allows you to see what’s coming up. Having said that, it’s not totally clear, as your fingers do cover up a lot of the action and so expect some spectacular crashes now and again. That is, however, something we’ve come accustomed to in iPhone games, and any other virtual control arrangement just wouldn’t be as intuitive. I do feel though that when this eventually comes to iPad, there is the potential to use the extra screen space and have an area of the screen devoted to the gestures, instead of tapping on the bike itself. Imagine it played in landscape, where 2/3 of the screen is viewpoint and the other 1/3 used as a visual representation of the bike purely for your actions.
There’s another benefit to the perspective viewpoint, and that’s that it allows for the graphics to shine though. The game does look great (though sadly not retina). The levels/courses are a mix of industrial; with pipes and ramps, and more natural; with hills, and caves. I prefer the industrial ones myself, mainly because man-made textures and angular objects are easier to pull off and look more realistic. Whereas the more natural looking courses, like Inca hills, don’t quite pull it off, with blocky flora and fauna.
A great added feature lets you not only view replays (which are shown from multiple camera viewpoints), but also upload them to YouTube for the world to see your amazing tricks… or in my case some horrendous crashes!
While the game opens your eyes to seeing more of the course, it takes away with its freedom. Skate had a sandbox structure to it, allowing you to freely roam the courses at will. However, in BMX, while you are in control of your bike for the most part, you are restricted to following a set path from a start point to a finish point. So, for example you can’t simply turn around and try a trick again. For me, this is a huge oversight, and adds a layer of frustration. Sometimes you simply want to perfect a particular trick on a particular jump. And so without a free roam mode, or implementing an instant replay feature, you must restart the level (annoying if you’ve just bested the course prior to your mistake). I understand the need to structure BMX as more of a game than a sandbox toy, and so have a higher degree of difficulty, but I feel it will isolate some gamers in persevering to delve deeper into the game. This also isn’t helped by being a bit stingy from the outset, and only offering up one course to begin with. It takes some getting used to the controls, and offering more than one place to get frustrated will again increase the likely hood of not sticking with it.
Touchgrind BMX does improve on the series for the most part, but in other areas, such as the lack of free roam, it seems to be taking a big step back. As it stands now it will delight and frustrate gamers in equal measure. It seems that Illusion labs were so focused on nailing the controls, and presentation, that they didn’t step back and think of the whole package and how that would affect the end-user experience. It’s a good game to be sure, but it has the potential to be great.