Review: Danielle Cassley/Jason Citron Aurora Feint
On August 5, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: Games to Show Off Apple's Devices, a feature article looking at six games that interestingly showed off the iPhone OS. Today, we are rating most of these games in separate reviews. This review focuses on Danielle Cassley and Jason Citron's Aurora Feint (Free); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
While we’ve assigned ratings to all of the other games we’ve reviewed for iPods and iPhones thus far, we’ve decided to hold off on doing so for Aurora Feint for the time being. This game, a clone of Nintendo’s Panel de Pon, a.k.a. Tetris Attack—a “match three or more blocks” puzzle game like Bejeweled that differs in its use of a well that’s not always full—is unlike so many of the demos we have seen in the App Store in that the developers aren’t charging for what is, by their own admission, an unfinished piece of software. There’s talk of the game becoming episodic, more of a multiplayer online experience, improving its use of the iPhone for smoother in-game movement and menuing, and so on. When it’s done, we’ll rate it, but for now, this review will describe what’s here to be seen.
It’s worth noting up front that Aurora Feint was amongst the first iPhone games to go through a rough App Store patch—the game was approved by Apple, then rightly removed from the App Store when it was discovered that the game was duplicating the user’s Contacts list and sending it unencrypted to the developers so your family and friends could be located online. Then the game was reinstated in the Store after the developers addressed the issue, asking a user’s permission before copying or sending the Contacts information in now encrypted format. We’re still extremely uncomfortable about the idea that Contacts data could be copied and sent over the Internet in this way, as it has the potential to be a seriously awful invasion of a user’s privacy, but some users mightn’t mind.
That’s because the concept behind Aurora Feint, and its execution, are very intriguing. The first surprise here is a modestly animated but artistically impressive Japanese anime-style opening, which gives way to a role-playing game structure for the tile-matching gameplay. Rather than just endlessly matching blocks for the purpose of seeing different backgrounds, the developers here use matching as a way to help you build up a character, with the matched icons representing resources that can be channeled into statistic and skill development. While the level, item, and challenge interface is clunky and in need of some improvement, slowing down to a crawl when you try to scroll and in some cases seeming overly complicated relative to the best modern portable RPG titles, the fact that it’s there at all is a positive step forward over similar iPhone games such as Bejeweled 2.
Another change is the control. Swipe gestures for matches are limited to horizontal motions, so if you’re trying to match three or more blocks, you need to push a block left or right to accomplish the match; up and down won’t work. But there’s a way around this limitation: you turn the iPhone on its sides to dispense more blocks, as well as to change the orientation in which matches can be made. In this way, blocks that were previously horizontal can be manipulated vertically, and the entire collection can change positions. It’s an interesting example of how Apple’s accelerometer controls can literally add a new twist to a familiar game.
In our view, though the core puzzle-style gameplay is pretty simple, the RPG elements in Aurora Feint unquestionably make the game more ambitious than many of the demo-class titles we’ve seen in the App Store. As uncomfortable as we still are with the Contacts database matching system, which is turned off by default but still has us wary—how about a checkmark-based selector for only those contacts people want to expose?—we otherwise applaud the developers for properly using the App Store as an opportunity to beta-test for free before releasing a paid app at a price. This is so much more palatable than the more offensive charge now, fix later strategy that too many other developers have been using. Aurora Feint is worth seeing now, and when it’s finished, we think it will most likely be worth buying as well.