There are games with good ideas and good execution of said ideas, and there are games with good ideas with bad execution. There are also other types of games, but unfortunately, it’s the latter I’ll be talking about here. Arctic Escape bases its puzzly gameplay around a solid Chu Chu Rocket-like core, but makes a number of mistakes, both big and small, that prevent the end user from really enjoying themselves.
If you’ve never played Chu Chu Rocket (and I’m sure many of you haven’t), the general idea is this: select an arrow from a menu, place it somewhere in the game, and watch as your Lemming-like creatures walk into it and obey its command. In this case, those creatures are directionally-challenged penguins, and you must guide them to safety, which has (for some reason) taken the form of a helicopter.
Levels start off fairly easy, but (as you can imagine) grow in difficulty, introducing numerous obstacles that will either block your path or kill off your penguins. Much like Lemmings, you need to get as many of the critters as possible to the end.
So far, so good. But Arctic Escape is frustrating for a few reasons. Placing arrows from a row of options is a difficult task, as they always want to put themselves just above where you placed your finger. I can understand the developers not wanting to have your finger obscure where you want to be putting things, but it really just gets annoying when your desperately-placed arrow is in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to mass penguin death.
This feeling of the game not doing quite what you instinctively feel it should permeates most of the experience. Scrolling around the screen can only be done when you have the scroll button selected — otherwise, be prepared to be placing a lot of unwanted arrows. Dangerous obstacles aren’t always highlighted enough, such as bridges that are half collapsed. And the penguins will, for some reason, turn around at the edge of some cliffs, but happily fall into crevasses and off bridges.
The visuals are a large part of what makes or breaks a game like this. Unfortunately, while they do an adequate job here, they don’t highlight friendly vs. dangerous objects enough — at least not all the time. Perhaps more importantly, however, they simply lack enough spark to make the player enjoy simply hanging out on an ice floe, watching penguins waddle around. They’re forgettable, in other words, and highlight the game’s problems rather than smooth over them.
There’s a decent amount of content on hand here, but it soon felt like a bit of a chore to get through it all. Your mileage will vary depending on the kinds of games you’re into, but the truth is that there are a ton of very high quality puzzle games on the App Store vying for your attention. Arctic Escape isn’t terrible by any means, but it is average — and in such a ferocious market, that just isn’t good enough.