“Curiouser and Curiouser!”
One man development team Anime 3D SFX‘s Antistar 3D: Rising is like a breath of fresh air amid the near constant deluge of fart apps, tired console copycats, 99 cent nonentities, and identikit zombie shooters that clogs up the virtual aisles of the App Store and gives self-styled hardcore gamers ample cause to wrinkle their noses at the mention of the humble iPhone ever becoming a bona fide gaming platform.
A 3D platformer-cum-adventure game set in a beautifully realized dream world populated by all manner of magical creatures and driven forth by a blackly comic take on fairy tale fable, Antistar is utterly unlike anything else I’ve ever played. On an iDevice or elsewhere. Yet as arty and willfully weird as the game is, it never forgets to have fun, and traversing its fantasy land is a hugely compelling experience. But one which comes to an end all too soon.
Cast as an amnesiac who awakens(?) without the foggiest idea of where, or indeed who she is, the game’s plot is ambiguous from the outset, and your purpose in this strange place fuzzy at best.
Bereft as it is of a simplistic “save the princess” conceit or clearly signposted quests, you’re encouraged to thoroughly explore your surroundings, pay close attention to the plucky protagonist’s near incessant internal monologuing, and to tease vital clues from the various oddball characters you encounter on your journey.
The first thing that’s likely to strike you about Antistar is its highly original visual style. A delightful mingling of anime inspired character models, surreal imagery, and a Studio Ghibli-esque eye for detail and polish, the results look as if they have been ripped straight from the pages of a children’s storybook.
And like the best children’s literature, Antistar has a mischievous sense of fun, is stuffed with memorable characters – a mad scientist, a grinning sheep, and a posse of gangster mice amongst others – and isn’t afraid to get a little dark at times. So as you make your way through the game’s floating village, rusting, pseudo-steam-punk city, eery enchanted forest, and trippy platforming sections (think an even more psychedelic Mario Land), be prepared for some genuinely unnerving moments and brief flashes of action and violence that frequently shatter the general quietude, relaxed pace and cryptic chin-wags with cutesy talking animals.
Antistar‘s adventure truly is an engrossing one, chock-a-block with memorable set-pieces, an outlandish cast of characters and a diverse range of environments each with an ethereal beauty all of their own. Granted, the game may lack a discernible central mission, yet you’ll never feel bored or at a loss for something to do as you make through it thanks to the wittily written dialogue and a string of increasingly bizarre, dream logic fuelled puzzles.
In fact it’s all so good, I really do wish I could tell you Antistar also plays like a dream. But, alas, it doesn’t. Controls are problematic, the compass shaped click-wheel used to navigate your way through environments is a clumsy substitute for a d-pad or joy stick, while a camera that swoops and pitches wildly as you play, attempting to capture the most cinematic angle on the action, but often obscuring it entirely, means you’ll spend a frustrating amount of time stuck in bits of scenery or repeatedly missing your ride on a floating platform.
It’s testament to the strength of the story and thrilling sense of discovery then that these various problems, which could easily have destroyed the game, barely registered as I played.
Less satisfying is the fact that Antistar ends abruptly on a cliffhanger. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say you’re left wanting for more, and ultimately the topsy-turvy plot poses many more questions than it answers; much like waking from a dream just when you get to the best bit. Thus this 1.0 release of Antistar feels a tad wishy-washy and unfinished, however additional content has been promised by way of free updates. The overall sense I get is that we’ve been shown a glimpse of something of wonderful, and I for one honestly can’t wait to see the full picture. A cult classic in the making methinks.
iFanzine Verdict: This is iPhone gaming as art and developer as auteur, and as such, Antistar 3D: Rising isn’t likely to appeal to everyone. If however you do fall for the game’s unique charms, rest assured, you’re in for an enthralling adventure. In spite of its flaws and slight running time, I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone whose curiosity has been piqued by the above review, trailer, or sumptuous screenshots.