Deciding that his App Store debut should star a cat/rabbit hybrid is just the beginning of the strange and wonderful things Matthew Herz does in Carota! (Out Now, $1.99). Admittedly it owes much to the classic action puzzler Pipe Dream — yes, the game where you had to prevent a sewage spill by laying down pipe as long as you could hold out. Replacing the flowing sewage with an adorable little critter was a great idea not only from a sanitation standpoint, but because it allows Carota! to go places its inspiration could not.
Your basic goal in Carota! is to keep dragging roadway tiles into the cabbit’s path, ensuring he hops onto a new tile before the one he’s currently on sinks into oblivion. Once he’s traveled over a specific number of tiles indicated by a goal counter, the current level’s exit opens and the player can drag him right on over. Each level begins with a certain number of tiles already set on the board, but the player will soon be reaching for a queue button that serves new ones randomly.
Unlike the nasty goo in Pipe Dream, the cabbit is polite enough to stay on his current tile if the player hasn’t gotten around to plopping a new one in yet. Carota! therefore has a low-pressure feeling by comparison, but that doesn’t mean there’s no challenge here. The new player’s earliest enemy is his or her own tendency to accidentally lock the cabbit in place; he can’t return to a tile he’s already walked on, so the player must take care to clean the board by alternating tile colors in his path. Just when that’s mastered, the player spends the rest of the game developing strategies to handle the effects of new tiles as they’re introduced. Especially nefarious are the spring-loaded mushroom tiles, which bounce the cabbit around in violation of his usual stay-put rule. If you don’t have a tile in place to catch him before he steps on one of these, consider it Game Over!
Carota! succeeds in making its formula well varied, but part of me wishes for a gameplay style closer to Pipe Dream sometimes. There’s something more gripping about the idea of the cabbit always surging ahead toward certain doom, barely averted by the player’s quick action every step of the way, and having to build a continuous path to the exit with whatever’s in the queue. Those traditional tweaks would make a great gameplay mode to add in updates perhaps, but one can hardly complain that the developer didn’t mix things up the first time around. Every level of the story campaign has a complementary “puzzle” challenge level accessible from the main menu. These really up the ante by strictly limiting the number of moves the player can use. An endless mode also awaits once you’ve completed the story levels.
Tap-rotating and sliding the tiles around works without a hitch provided you do so calmly and deliberately. Swipe around too fast and you’ll be stymied by the occasional failure to move a tile as desired, at least on an iPod Touch. Tiles are inevitably packed close together, so it’s difficult to see where their touch areas could possibly be widened — but on the bright side, Carota! gives you plenty of time to plan ahead before they start sinking. This is one advantage of the game’s relaxed style: it takes most of the sting out of what could have been a major interface issue in a faster gameplay model.
Carota! channels the feel of SNES-era puzzle games for the most part, though its cutscenes feature some cool psychedelic sprite warping. I found the in-game music very catchy as well — certainly up to par for the era its presentation is trying to emulate.
iFanzine Verdict: It tends to be more laid back than its closest genre cousins, but Carota! succeeds as a fun and varied action puzzler you’ll want to try out if you’re looking for something that’s well out of the ordinary.