There you are floating around on planet Eena, a world with unpredictable gravity, deadly walls covered in sharp things, and sentient triangles that shoot spikes at you. If you were some sort of nigh-invulnerable rock this might be ok, but you're a crystal ball that will shatter if a cloud looks at you the wrong way. Oh, and in order to move around, you have to wobble by temporarily defying gravity with quick screen taps. That's Tapforss in a fragile nutshell, a mobile arcade game from Like a Crocodile that cranks up the difficulty and provides a quietly impressive experience that's probably going to drive you mad.
Tapforss is built around two things: dangerous terrain and a bobbing main character. The controls are split with left and right movements on one side, and an upwards hop on the other. To move, tap one of these arrows. You hop in the tapped direction only slightly, with Eena's gravity quickly pulling you down. And since you can't touch anything in this place, you're basically tapping the controls all the time, adjusting your position and making desperate runs through narrow corridors hoping to reach the exit.
But wait, it gets crazier! Falling boulders and stacked rubble sometimes get in your way, not to mention enemies that rush over and give you a good shove. Special barriers line certain corridors that will change which way gravity pulls you or invert your controls, meaning you can't always rely on which way is up. Or down. Or whatever. Fortunately, one or two friendly things exist in the game, such as health orbs, teleporters, and little space crafts you can hop in for a few precious moments of invulnerability!
You're scored at the end of each level based on number of lives left, how many taps you used, and how long it took you to reach the end. Three difficulty settings let you choose how many hits you can take before restarting the stage, but even on easy mode it's quite a challenge to get a perfect score. Practice makes perfect, right?
Analysis: Tapforss hits that sweet spot between something familiar and something unique. You can call it an arcade game, a physics game, or a game you get mad at because you died like ten times on that one spike, but quick labels don't do the experience justice. The eternally off-balance glass orb that is your character needs constant coaxing, so when a level begins, you're on your tappy-toes until you make it to the exit. No breaks, no moment to admire the scenery. It's surprisingly tense, but because you pay so much attention to the level layout and the orb itself, you feel sort of like a mother carrying her newborn baby through a dangerous cave.
The level design adds an element of exploration to Tapforss not usually seen in quick-fire arcade games of this nature. Half the time you're not sure where you need to go to find the exit, so you just sort of fling yourself out there and see what happens. Passageways often connect with each other or, at the very least, feature a health orb if they dead end, so it's not like the game is out to trick you. Besides, the twisty caverns, physics-altering barriers, and player-aware enemies lurking about make it challenging enough as it is.
Tapforss livens up the quick reflex arcade genre with a unique control set and smart design decisions all around. The visuals are suitably gorgeous, and even though you'll hate every nook and crevasse in these pointy caves, you have to admit they look pretty stunning while shattering you to pieces. Go nab Tapforss and see how tap-happy you can be.
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPad 3. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.