Review: Namco Star Trigon
Could it be? An actually worthwhile game from Namco for the iPod? Yes! Finally! Star Trigon ($5) is -- surprise -- actually based on an arcade game from this decade, and originally developed by the team responsible for the popular Mr. Driller puzzle titles. Though it's far lower in profile than the company's earlier, disappointing releases of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Pole Position for Click Wheel iPods, Star Trigon is a game that's legitimately worth downloading, though the simplicity of the gameplay and uber-Japanese aesthetics may turn off some players.
Designed to be utterly simple, Star Trigon places you in control of a character who is viewed from an overhead map screen showing multiple dot-like planets. This character spins around the planet in an orbit, detaching and flying to another planet when you press the center button. The only science of the game is learning the effect that pressing the button will have at a given moment in your spin; hit it at the right moment and you’ll jump correctly to a planet of your choice, but hit it wrong and you’ll fly off into space and lose one of only a handful of extra men you keep in reserve.
Moving from planet to planet properly is part of the game. The other challenge is doing so in a pattern: your goal is to make triangles by connecting the planet dots line by line, saving floating people who are lost in space between the planets. There are 79 stages, structured in clusters of unlockable beginner, easy, medium, and hard levels, and you ultimately need to not just beat these levels, but get through all of the levels shown to you on a given level of difficulty. It’s easy to do the several beginner stages with a few men in reserve, but you’ll probably need to go through easy three or four times before you unlock medium, and even more times to unlock hard. Some of the stages give you only one man to succeed or fail, others let you run down your stock of lives trying.
Though Namco’s levels and action aren’t quite as mesmerizing as the ones in Popcap’s addictively awesome Peggle, they become increasingly smart and interesting as the stages progress. You begin to realize that there are different speeds that your character can be powered up to move at, only a few opportunities to bounce back onto a planet if you’ve missed its orbit and flown off into space, and that there’s a time limit in the form of a constantly-depleting oxygen tank to keep you moving fast. Some planets leech off your oxygen, others aren’t safe to touch, and so on; despite the simplicity of the “draw triangles to save characters” theme, Namco manages to make the levels fun and challenging as you progress.
Simplicity aside—and it’s the primary reason the game doesn’t rate higher—the only thing that might throw some players is the seriously Japanese aesthetic. There’s a full soundtrack, real in-game art and a real menu structure here, but they’re all of the heavily cutesy manga variety; the characters have favorite foods and blood types, the things you’re trying to rescue look sort of like yellow baby chicks, and so on. Like Peggle’s unicorn and rainbow shtick, they’re not for everyone, but they also don’t detract from making this game worth playing.
Though the Click Wheel iPod family isn’t the world’s best device for portable gaming, Star Trigon demonstrates that even fairly recent arcade games can be translated into fun iPod experiences, provided that the original titles started with simple controls. If the idea of a simplified action puzzler with a cartoony theme holds any appeal to you, you’ll find Star Trigon to be surprisingly compelling and fun—a better use of $5 than most of the iPod games currently out there. It’s great to see Namco finally releasing something worthwhile for this platform.