Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tentacles: Enter the Dolphin [Press Play + Microsoft] - $0.99

I’m constantly amazed at how many iOS games surprise me. I know I shouldn’t be, but there’s such a wide variety of titles available in the AppStore, and with the insane amount of games, it can be pretty hard to find a title that completely knocks your socks off sometimes. But, it does happen, and seems to happen at least a couple times a month. October started off very promising with the releases of Press Play’s Microsoft published title, Tentacles: Enter the Dolphin, a top-down arcadey action platformer. Originally released on Windows Phone, Tentacles has now found it’s second home in the AppStore.

In Tentacles, you’ll control Lemmy, a microscopic weird little creature created by the mad dolphin scientist, Professor Phluff while he was trying to create the cutest creature ever seen. Unfortunately, he created Lemmy, got upset, smashed his fists down on the table, and Lemmy wound up flying up into the air and landing in the Professor’s mouth. Now you’ll need to control Lemmy as he tries to fight his way out of the Professor, crawling through organs and eating the eyeballs out of the other strange creatures crossing his path. 
Tentacles contains 40 levels in the original purchase, but there’s also a continuation of the story available through IAP, adding another 16 stages to the game and taking you through Phluff’s dog, Strandog, with each stage having a possible 3 star ranking. To earn the three stars, you need to make it through the stage without dying, collect all of the orbs, including the ones that the enemies leave behind after you destroy them, and complete the challenge. There are two challenges in the game, one being a time challenge, requiring you to make it from one section of the level to another before time runs out. The other is a damage challenge, needing to make it through a certain area without taking any damage. You are able to take damage throughout the rest of the level and still be awarded with a 3 star ranking. If you can get all 3 stars in a level in one play through, the level on the level select screen will turn green. If you collect all 3 stars, but separately, needing to play through the level more than once to collect them all, the level will turn red. This does add quite a bit of replay value the game, especially if you’re a 100% completionist.

Making your way through each level, you’ll need to guide Lemmy by controlling his 3 tentacles and one claw. Tentacles are controlled by tapping on the screen where you want to move them to. Each tap moves one tentacle, so Lemmy’s movement can get pretty interesting, especially when attached to 3 separate locations. Using Lemmy’s claw is done in the same manor, by tapping on enemies you want to attack. Once you eat all eyes on an enemy, they’ll be destroyed and leave behind orbs which you’ll need to collect to get the orb star at the end of a level, but that also help to heal Lemmy. 
There are multiple areas in each level, some just making you follow along a path with spikes and other hazards on the sides, with groups of orbs scattered along the way. Other areas will have platforms for you to attach Lemmy to. There are quite a few hazards, and mixed in with the blood flow that you’ll sometimes have to work against, maneuvering around them can be pretty challenging. Some objects let you attach yourself to them for a short time before they explode, others rotate and go into the walls or push you into spikes, and there are some sections where the pathway you’re making your way through will contract and push spikes against you if you’re not careful. 

The scoring system in Tentacles is great, and it really is a shame that Microsoft has a policy that doesn’t allow for GameCenter integration, because the scoring system rewards speed and risk taking by adding 5, and eventually 10 points onto the base score for each orb that you collect in a short amount of time. The base score for an orb is 50 points. If you can collect a string of them, one after the other, each one after the first will go up in increments of 5. Once you get 100 points for an orb, the extra points double, giving you 10 for each extra orb, up until you reach 150 points per orb collected. With the great placement of most of the orbs, and possible quick strings you can collect, there’s loads of possibilities for high scoring, and always the potential to better your score. You’ll also loose points whenever Lemmy takes damage, adding even more to the challenge when playing for a high-score. There are in-game achievements, which do help add to the already high replay value, but there are gamers that would prefer them to be integrated with GameCenter. Basically, with no social gaming integration of any kind, the drive to play your best, or replay levels for better scores is pretty much non-existent. 

Graphically, Tentacles looks fantastic. The dark atmosphere and ambient music come together to create a wonderful world. Even with the bright, vibrant colors that can be found throughout the game, there’s always a darker undertone right under the surface. With the easy-to-use touch controls, all of it creates a very immersive game. The animations are also fantastic, with smooth movement for Lemmy, the hazards, blood flow and all of the enemies that you’ll come across. Even on older devices, the game runs great, with no drop in frame-rate or lag to speak of. 
Tentacles: Enter the Dolphin is Universal and priced at $0.99, with the second set of levels also available for an extra $0.99 it’s a great deal. If you’re willing to overlook the lack of online scoring, and the diminished drive to perform your best because of that, you’re in for a real treat. Press Play has done an outstanding job with Tentacles, and with their previous game, Max and the Magic Marker, they’re definitely a development studio worth keeping an eye on. Hopefully some sort of social score application can be added to the game. Even if it’s new, and players need to sign up for yet another social gaming platform, I believe that they will just to be able to compare scores, and have that added drive and challenge. Until then, that’s the only real thing holding Tentacles back.


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