Pivotal Punishment Review

Tunnel Rider

It’s too bad we don’t learn more about the player’s role in Silver Fox Media’s App Store debut, but suffice it to say something interesting is going on here. Whether as a high tech gem thief or an errand runner in some far-out hyperspace economy, this one dares the player to take a ride through the “ten billion kilowatt incandescent quantum space hole” for some serious Pivotal Punishment (Out Now, $0.99)! Planted firmly upon a metallic ring that rotates at the player’s touch, a shadowy protagonist threads his way through a stream of gems and bombs whizzing by at breakneck speed — and boy, the life-threatening explosives certainly outnumber the emeralds he’s trying to collect!

Feeling a bit like a tunnel-friendly take on the infinite running genre, Pivotal Punishment challenges the player to make it as far as possible, and collect as many gems as possible, before his or her avatar gets blown to smithereens. There’s no health meter per se, a red screen glare sufficing to let the player know it’ll be Game Over soon enough. Objects whiz by so fast that it takes a keen eye to distinguish between bombs and gems, so the greatest danger of all are smoke bombs that obscure the player’s vision temporarily.

The sheer randomness with which Pivotal Punishment dishes out bombs and gems cuts the player’s experience down a notch. A useful contrast would be the bonus levels in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which benefited from a gentle learning curve and items grouped into recognizable patterns; consider Pivotal Punishment the long-lost Bullet Hell cousin to that classic Sega minigame and you’ll have a good idea just how harrowing a ride through the quantum space hole can be.

Luckily the developer packed in several modes of play with widely varying difficulty: twitch gamers will appreciate “Classic” right off the bat, but more casual players will want to start with the less hectic “Collector” mode. Pivotal Punishment doesn’t make use of Game Center or OpenFeint for the generalized high score competition that has become synonymous with infinite games on iOS, opting instead for a strong sense of single player progression. The player’s cumulative gem total determines his or her Experience Level, with higher levels unlocking bonus content such as new game modes and choice of player avatar. The player who really gets into the game is rewarded with an addictive sense of accomplishment that should appeal to anyone who can do without an online leaderboard.

The mechanics for rotating the pivot ring work smoothly in practice: the player may either drag the little dude around directly or tap on a destination point that he should rotate toward. What drags the game down most is how unresponsive its opening menu currently operates; the “Back” button, particularly, has to be hammered on before it responds. The menu system alone will turn off sticklers for perfect user interface operation until a much needed update rolls out.

Pivotal Punishment‘s visual presentation is clean but unembellished. Its aesthetics are nicely rounded out by none other than Kevin MacLeod, who lends a variety of high-octane techno beats to the high-stakes proceedings. Pivotal Punishment‘s duration depends entirely on how long the player remains hooked, but the game keeps up its end of the bargain by dishing out rewards virtually as long as the player sticks with it.

iFanzine Verdict: Yet another infinite game, Pivotal Punishment nevertheless stands out for its clever concept, intensity, and especially the number of game modes and performance rewards it packs in. Until it gets a badly needed update to its menu sensitivity, however, it will appeal only to players who are forgiving of interface flaws outside of core gameplay.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]