Remember that scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the science team communicates with aliens using a certain sequence of musical tones? If you do, you’ll find it easy to appreciate Nooskewl’s latest offering, Elemental: A Musical Instrument (Out Now, $.99). To call Elemental a videogame per se would be inaccurate because it lacks some of the most basic components of gameplay — namely a clear goal or a way of keeping score. It certainly makes a neat concept app though.
The player – or, more appropriately, the musician – concerns him-or herself with composing a musical sequence from four sound effects associated with the classical elements Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. These are selected one at a time toward the bottom of the touchscreen and placed into a grid with a second tap; the element’s horizontal placement determines the order its sound effect is played in the sequence, while its vertical placement determines the sound effect’s pitch as one would naturally expect. The evolving musical sequence plays periodically, no further input from the player necessary in that regard.
What’s groovy about this app is that it’s difficult to produce something horrifically ear-piercing unless the player simply overloads the element grid. The element selection and placement interface is also reliably responsive. Unfortunately the means of resetting the grid don’t appear to be revealed in the app itself; for reference, the musician needs to shake his or her iDevice. There also seems to be a bug that cancels out the sounds of certain elements on the grid if the app is left running unattended long enough for the iDevice to black out — this is applicable to the iPod Touch 4G at least, and may depend on the device’s auto-lock setting.
Not much more can be said about Elemental — it seems like a skeletal concept that could be fleshed out further, and whether you’ll be interested depends completely on how curious you are about trying your hand at musical sequencing for the price of a buck. Is it a clever way of testing the design of a cool minigame that might be featured in one of Nooskewl’s future RPGs? An app for treating tone deafness? A way of training those who will go on to communicate with extraterrestrials in the future? Perhaps time will tell!
So maybe you’re not much for communicating musically with aliens, but you’ve always been itching to jump into the driver’s seat of one of those stunt vehicles used for high octane car chases. You can get a pretty good feeling for what that would be like in Dimension Technics’ Alpine Crawler Wild (Out Now, $.99). If you’ve played any of the previous games in the Alpine Crawler series you’ll know exactly what to expect: the player’s goal is to drive a car, bus, dump truck, or one of several other vehicles over treacherously hilly courses, making it to a series of checkpoints as fast as possible while minimizing damage to the vehicle.
The user interface hasn’t much changed from previous entries other than a mild face lift, which means Alpine Crawler Wild treats the player to touch-operated gas and brake pedals that are both responsive and intuitive. There’s a gear-switching button for throwing the vehicle into reverse when extra momentum is necessary for climbing steep hills, and this is curiously accompanied by a horn button that will leave players scratching their heads because there doesn’t appear to be a pedestrian in sight. A mini map lies at the center of the user interface, helping the player memorize each course’s layout and respond to obstacles on-the-fly if his or her braking reflexes are sufficient.
Alpine Crawler Wild features Game Center support but the real draw here is the crazy fun in watching the player’s wheeled avatar react to hill jumps that would make a lot of professional daredevils blush. Sometimes realistic physics end the moment the player’s vehicle goes airborne and lands like a rubber pancake instead of crunching up as one would expect; pulling off a full 360-degree rollover is undoubtedly the most coveted move the morbidly curious player can pull off, and thanks to a relatively forgiving health meter it’s possible to do a couple of these and still finish some courses.
The amount of damage the player can sustain, as well as properties like acceleration rate and critical failure points, do vary widely from vehicle to vehicle — so it’s easier to split a flimsy dragster in half than the hilariously tumble resistant load-bearing trucks. The player vehicle can be arbitrarily chosen in the untimed Free Ride Mode, and there are even a few neat Monster Truck-style giants that can be unlocked by completing the timed Time Trial and Challenge modes. For a $.99 game there’s plenty of complexity under the hood to keep players engaged for awhile, and it strikes that perfect balance: easy to pick up and play, challenging to master.
It’s difficult to appreciate how aesthetically impressive Alpine Crawler Wild is from screen shots alone. The graphics are crisp if a bit sparse overall, and the game makes heavy use of dynamic zooming and lighting to keep things visually interesting. Players will want to load up their iTunes playlists before firing it up, though, because the satisfying screeches of peeling rubber and cracking suspensions will go unaccompanied otherwise.