Ever feel like the world is crashing down around you? That's kinda what's going on in The Incident, from Bit Bucket Software.
Side-on, like a classic adventure game, the protagonist (played by you) is unable to flee what's about to happen by leaving either side of the screen; instead, he must move left or right (achieved by tilting your device in either direction) or jump (tap anywhere on the screen). Why, you ask? Well, as alluded to in this review's opening, the world (or at least, a large assortment of recognisable parts of it) is crashing down around you.
All manner of objects, from signs to pianos to fluffy toys to Easter Island statues, are falling from the sky like some sort of rain of the damned; it's as if the world's largest car boot sale was hit by the worlds largest twister and your location (by happenstance) is where these objects intend to come to rest.
What's a videogame character to do, you ask? Well that's obvious - avoid the objects by use of the aforementioned control scheme. In a nutshell: firstly avoid the objects falling on you and then avoid being trapped underneath the ever-mounting pile of mismatched detritus by climbing on top of the objects and the haphazard pile they create.
Leveraging a physics engine of some description, objects don't simply sit where they fall; they settle and are able to be jostled about (whether intended or otherwise) by the player as he attempts to maintain prime position on top of the stack. If you get trapped, which will happen from time to time, you can simply shake your device to become enveloped by a bubble which will allow you to rise out of the mire and back on top of the heap. Don't wait too long, however, as objects will continue to rain down and if you stay trapped for too long, you'll perish.
Each "life" is made up of three chunks of health, which are generally lost by being hit by something that fell from the sky. Even a teddy bear will cost you a chunk - the teddy bear, remember, has fallen a long way; soft toy or not, you'll definitely notice should its fall be arrested by your head.
Fortunately settling objects don't pose a risk to the player, other than entrapment, as an object which has hit something can no longer do any damage. In fact, a settling object can act as a kind of shield, arresting the fall of a newly arriving object which would have otherwise landed squarely on the crown of the manically dodging player. Just don't get stuck under it or you may have trouble getting out again, possibly getting trapped into a small portion of the screen, giving you fewer options when it comes time to avoid the next obstacle.
As you would imagine difficulty ramps up as you progress. Larger objects arrive more frequently and the little balloons with score-coins or health powerups soon find their rank extended to include poison or "curse" balloons which instantly rob the player of a precious chunk of existence. Getting bonked by an object into the path of a curse balloon is an annoying (and quick!) way to seal your demise.
Incoming objects are indicated by the flashing of a small bar of pixels at the top of the screen, a clever mechanic in a number of ways: firstly, it ensures you have fair notice (although this decreases in later levels) and secondly, it ensures that your attention is torn between what's coming and what you're already dealing with.
Despite the fairly liberal (and regular) sprinkling of extra lives, the difficulty (which is quite considerable, particularly once you advance to around the middle of the game) comes from the number of hits you can take before you lose a life and the checkpoint system. On each level, there are checkpoints at a couple of places which essentially require you to get to a certain height before your progress is saved. It's quite hard to get to these points, which are quite some distance apart; combined with the increasingly frequent hazards (both from the sky and from below) it's not uncommon to burn a number of lives trying to get between checkpoints.
Visually, if you like retro, The Incident is a treat. For those that remember Lucasarts adventures or games like Commander Keen, you are going to love every exaggerated pixel. The passion evident both in creating a visual tapestry to suit the old-school play mechanic and in revisiting the graphical techniques of the past simply cannot be overstated: it's a masterpiece. That said, if you're unfamiliar with the games of yesteryear you might not get it...
The audio, too, is a retro blast with chiptunes your C64 would have been proud to produce. Even the Mario-like sound effects (the coin-collection is virtually identical to that used by our Italian friend) bring back memories of games gone by in a rush - something that, again, may be lost on some of the iPad-toting casual gamers of today. To hell with them: The Incident is an aural treat and deserves the high volume treatment.
The Incident, at the end of the day, is a simple concept that's easy to grasp, but, thanks to skilled execution, hard to master. Far from frustrating, it oozes X-Factor and you'll feel that "just one more try" itch late into the night. It's easy to pick up, hard to put down and so polished it's almost glossy - even for those who are not as familiar with the pixelated past that it is so obviously an homage to. If you have a device that can play it (it works on iPods, iPhones and iPads), don't even hesitate to drop down the measly $2.59 they're asking for it. It's worth every penny and many more besides - highly recommended.