George: Scared of the Dark (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Wall West || Overall: 8.0

Hardware Used: iPad w/iOS 8.0

George: Scared of the Dark is the spiritual sequel to Ghostie and Ghostie 2.  Oh, you want facts about the game?  Well, apparently 10 years ago I made the joke that one of the Ghosts in Ghostie 2 was “George.”  Amazing!  What separates George: Scared of the Dark from its unrelated cousins is that it is a side-scrolling “running” platformer.  You command the spirit known only as “George,” who is covered by a cute little sheet (or perhaps he’s the sheet itself) across a treacherous, procedurally-generated platforming landscape.  Unfortunately there are no snowmen throwing presents at you, but you will be committing suicide quite a bit.

Oddly enough, this runner game has a story with the sensibilities of a Katamari Damacy game.  It is very mysterious and little is offered in the way of a plot.   Unlike Katamari Damacy, it is a bit morbid as giant floating skulls talk to you in ominous cryptic sentences after you finish a level.  Art is in the same vein, but has an indie feel with graphics that look very clean.  As you progress through levels, the colors get darker, the weather begins to change for the worse, and large knives/amputated limbs try to kill you, among other elements.

The game is made of procedural levels, but the way they are constructed feel more like “random sets” put together.  Retrying will never present you with the same exact layout but some portions appear to remain consistent or come later than usual, depending on the level.  It all starts out pretty tough while you get used to the rhythm of the game.  This is probably one of the only times I can remember that a Tutorial level was difficult.  All of the controls correspond with gestures you make on your touch screen — tapping to jump, swiping left to backflip, swiping right to do a mid-air dash and somehow/someway being able to double jump.  Double jumping still eludes me despite playing through the whole game and for some reason I do it randomly.

Controls are the weakest part of the game.  Tapping on the glass repeatedly can be taxing since I have to move my whole hand to get the rhythm down.  My fingers are also stupid and don’t always communicate to the touch screen that I am tapping it so I have to press down harder than usual (or repeatedly tap) to tell it to jump; that’s a personal issue that you might not encounter unless you have “stupid fingers.”  The “Retry” button is in the middle of the damn screen, so you have to move your hand off your device and tap the center before starting again.  My hands are big (hello ladies), but not that big (goodbye ladies).  It is much more convenient to have the “Retry” button on the bottom left/right hand corners so it is easier to reach your intended action with ease.

Once you get used to the tempo of the scrolling, you might be able to breeze past some levels and get less frustrated (if you get to that point).  Since levels are almost never the same, you can’t memorize them, but some combinations might be easier than others.  Some levels do have locked-in elements though.  As you run through a stage, your goal is to also collect Skulls.  Occasionally this may change your decision as to whether or not take a higher risk path for the reward.  The items you can unlock are mainly cosmetic, such as changing your avatar to a frog.  Six things are available to buy, three of which are different avatars, one is a cosmetic that places fire behind you.  The last two are boosts to your jumping and a shield that will protect you from enemies.  If you want to unlock all of the items, it will be 5700 skulls.  From playing through all of the stages, I earned a little less than 500.  Extrapolate from that what you will.

It’s very annoying that the screen goes up and down with George the Ghost as you jump.  There isn’t usually an opportunity to go very high, so the camera should only move when you are higher.  I was getting a little bit of a headache after about an hour or so straight and had to take a break since the motion was constantly up and down.  The game doesn’t seem to be designed for anything but casually playing every now and then, so it might not actually matter.

The music is very good.  It can be a bit repetitive since you retry levels a lot, and since the levels aren’t very long they aren’t matched with full-length songs.  You’ll be listening to the first 20 seconds or so of the song more than the last 20 or so, but it more or less is made to loop so you’re not going to hear much of anything different.  The music is ambient instrumental electronic sort of music, and I would definitely listen to something like it normally.

Only 10 levels are available at the moment for $1.99, which is a very reasonable price considering you can replay levels and they are practically never the same.  You can unlock cosmetics and boosts by collecting Skulls, which influences you to keep playing.  Expansion packs are planned for Halloween and Christmas at the moment.

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