In its short life as a gaming platform, the iPhone OS has had more than its fair share of terrible releases, but none — we repeat, none — is more deeply disappointing than Digital Legends Entertainment’s new Kroll ($8). This game, once hand-picked by Apple to show how the iPhone can approximate a game console-like audiovisual experience, has proved to be little more than a gorgeous technology demo with gameplay that’s best summarized by a quote from Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Regressing to a primitive form of two-dimensional beat-em-up gameplay rarely seen since games such as Double Dragon and Golden Axe demonstrated how faux 3-D could be used to better effect, Kroll places you in command of a sole warrior who does nothing more than walk from left to right through stages, smacking monsters with a huge two-handed mace. You’re given on-screen left and right arrow buttons, and buttons for left or right big and small attacks; there’s no 3-D control of your character whatsoever, jumping or otherwise.
Beating the game—in other words, passing through its three very brief chapters, each with several segments—is simply a matter of spending a mere hour or two pressing the right button and alternating between the big right and small left attacks. That’s because the game almost invariably confronts you with the same enemies on every stage: crawling scorpion- and crab-like creatures who come up from the left or right and die if hit small, and big guys who come from the right and need to get hit big. Kroll’s big “challenge” is not losing all of his lifebar when the small guys come to attack from the rear while he’s fighting big guys. It’s not exactly rocket science to fend them off; in fact, the more blindly you push forward, the better you do.
There are brief interruptions. At the end of each chapter, you face off against a boss character in what have come to be known as “QTEs” or quick timer events, losing control over Kroll except for quick flashing icons on the screen that need to be touched to inflict damage. The boss character lunges forward, and if you don’t tap on the right place on the screen, you get crushed. Tap properly and he gets beaten up, letting you pass.
Sure, there are hundreds of bad iPhone games out there; the reason Kroll is ultimately so disappointing is that it had so much more potential than most of the garbage that’s filling the App Store these days. Most notably, Digital Legends’ graphics engine is shockingly strong—a brilliant demonstration of what the iPhone and iPod touch are capable of doing when pushed. There are detailed character models and incredibly impressive backgrounds, complete with foreground and deep background artwork that some companies would have left as comparatively simplistic flat scrolling images, and camera motions that sometimes show them off very nicely. Though repetitive, the music is a bit better than fine, too. Yet we kept having the same feeling again and again as we progressed through the levels: we’ve never seen art this good wasted so quickly and completely by poor gameplay and overly rapid progress through stages.
Overall, we couldn’t in good conscience recommend Kroll to iPhone or iPod touch owners. Despite the impressive graphics engine and artwork, there’s no way that people should consider paying $8 for a short game with such brainless gameplay; this is a prime example of the gap that exists between what iPhone developers are willing to release in the App Store and what makes other handheld gaming platforms great. At half the price, this would still be a technology demo—albeit a particularly eye-catching one—thus we’re crossing our fingers that Digital Legends Entertainment will take its time working on the already-announced sequel, and hopefully hire someone capable of making as long and smart of a game as the graphics here really deserve.
Company and Price
Company: Digital Legends Entertainment
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G