Review: Hudson Software Company Aqua Forest
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 these games in separate reviews. This review focuses on Hudson Soft and Prometech Software's Aqua Forest ($8); you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
Having played many iPhone games over the past month, we can say with confidence that Aqua Forest is amongst the most ambitious. Based on an extremely cool but slightly less than fully iPhone-optimized physics and graphics engine, Aqua Forest gives you one-screen puzzles that generally consist of fluids that need to be moved from one place to another—similar to a game we’ve previously reviewed called Enigmo.
There are two major differences here. First, Aqua Forest’s engine combines the softness of a Japanese anime cartoon’s watercolor background with fluid effects that are believable, if not as smooth as they could possibly be in frame rate. Second, most of the early action is controlled using the iPhone’s accelerometer. As a result, when you’re watching the game in motion, tilting your iPhone or iPod touch from left to right, what’s on the screen looks like a cartoony rendition of liquid moving around, a cool effect that we could as easily see being done impressively with utter realism on this platform. On a basic stage, you’ll have nothing more than a little ball to move through a maze, but as the game progresses, you’ll be given a huge volume of water to channel into an on-screen cup, requiring twisting of the iPhone on its sides and gentle tilts to properly place the fluid in the receptacle.
Later levels introduce additional user powers that are based on touchscreen input. One will have you pull a plug from one container and place a second plug in another to transfer fluid from one place to the next. Another will make you choose how to snip pieces of string that are holding water above a second container that needs to be filled. And further levels introduce the ability to heat and freeze liquids, transferring them in gaseous form, as well as using on-screen drawing tools to contain them.
Aqua Forest’s inclusion of so many element and interactivity tools, also available in a freeform mode where you can create and save your own puzzles, is a major boon to the design; however, the tools aren’t really explained very well, and the later ones really aren’t introduced in the classically useful tutorial-style manner perfected by developers such as Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, so you’re left to figure things out on your own. That consists largely of poking a bunch of confusing on-screen icons and trying to see what they do, which is sometimes easier in the freeform mode than within the puzzle levels themselves.
There are fifty levels in Aqua Forest, and though they tend to go by pretty quickly—some, too quickly to make the game feel like it’s worth $8—the experience of seeing your iPhone pulling off cartoon-styled visual effects in a fun gameplay environment is definitely worth paying for. If Aqua Forest had a more structured, teach-as-you-go style of gameplay, and an even larger collection of built-in levels, we could recommend it without question to all of our readers. As-is, we think that it’s not going to addict or deeply satisfy as many players as it otherwise could, and thus falls a little short of our high recommendation. We’ve had a lot of fun playing it, and hope that Hudson will further improve the engine and add additional content to this title; otherwise, competing developers should see it as a great starting point for similar iPhone puzzlers.