Touchgrind BMX Review

A Wheely Gnarly Game!

We all have our own preferred ways of organizing apps on the iDevices we own, right? Some folks pop their games in a folder labelled ‘games’, while others choose to group them together based on genre. Personally, what I do is assign each game a score out of five stars and store them in corresponding folders. Touchgrind BMX (out now, $4.99) poses a bit of a conundrum. Why? Well, because it’s so flippin’ good it deserves a new folder all of its own – tagged ‘6 Star Games’!

Touchgrind BMX is Illusion Labs’ second extreme sports title and builds on the success of their smash-hit Touchgrind. For those of you unfamiliar with that title, it was a skate-boarding (or finger-boarding) sim chock full of obstacles and combo opportunities to build high scores and compete with other iGamers around the world. Reinventing the formula this time around, Touchgrind BMX takes all the action and excitement of competitive BMXing and somehow squeezes it onto the iOS platform.

While I spent a little time with the original Touchgrind, I’ll be honest, I never truly warmed up to the game because of its birds-eye view and what I felt was a formidably steep learning curve when it came to getting to grips with its controls. Understandably, I was a bit wary when it came to tackling Touchgrind BMX. Thankfully, for me at least, the two games play quite differently.

To help get your feet wet, the game introduces you to the basic controls and scoring mechanics by way of three extremely helpful tutorial videos. These explanations are crisp, to the point and are accompanied by “finger indicators” (white circles indicating finger placement and movement which allow you to observe how the game is played and controlled in real-time). The action is shown from a third-person perspective. Your fore-finger (placed on the handle-bars) takes care of steering while your rear finger (placed near the seat of the bike) controls your speed. Keep your rear finger depressed and you start pedaling; release it and you slow down gradually – it’s that simple! Using this method in conjunction with fore-finger steering is key to overcoming many of the game’s trickier jumps and obstacles.

As you encounter various ramps and obstacles throughout Touchgrind BMX’s levels, your bike speeds off into the air, giving you the opportunity to start racking up points. The game’s combo and multiplier system is explained in detail during the initial tutorial: by swiping in a myriad of directions to pull off varied tricks, you earn points that add up towards your total score on the level. Each jump over 10,000 points you manage to land successfully gets you a multiplier. Hit the next jump with 10,000 points or more, and you get another multiplier. After hitting 4-5 high-scoring jumps consecutively without wiping out, you’re rewarded with limited “Airtime” which temporarily slows down time and gives you the opportunity to bust out a few extra moves to maximize your high-score.

Touchgrind BMX features five distinct locales where you can put your biking skills to the test, each of which contain unique challenges and requirements to be completed in order to unlock the next stage. From dock-yards to jungles, rooftops to beach-side piers, the levels and their layouts boast attractive, life-like visuals. While the game offers you the option to unlock and use different bikes and paint-jobs, there are no explicit stats or indications to help you decide which one is better than the other. I played through the game choosing my bike based purely on aesthetic factors, and felt no difference between them for the most part. Each level’s challenges vary from achieving a high score on that locale to performing certain types of tricks over particularly tricky gaps. While some of these are quite challenging at first, they end up posing little to no difficulty for someone who’s spent a few hours with the game and is comfortable with the game’s controls.

After starting out playing on an iPhone 4 and doing miserably, a friend advised me to try it out on 2x mode on an iPad. I installed it immediately and found my control over the game and my bike getting more and more refined by the hour until I was racking up enormous scores with ease. While playing on an iPad helped me get over my learning hump in the game (due to more playing space available to pull off tricks), it was only later when I played the game again on an iPhone 4 that I realized how much of an advantage a small screen actually gives you over a larger screen. While the iPad 2’s screen did help me along in learning the game’s ropes, it isn’t the most intuitive since swiping across a larger screen involves more ‘arm-work’ than swiping across an iPhone 4’s screen using your thumbs. Because of this, the number of tricks which can be pushed out and linked together while your bike hangs suspended in the air is much higher on a smaller screen. Therefore, it’s now my platform of choice for enjoying Touchgrind BMX.

After every run, the game gives you an option to save your replay and share it with the world – either by uploading it directly to YouTube or saving it to your PC first via iTunes. This is a great addition which did not have to exist in the first place but just goes to show that Illusion Labs really had their fans in mind while including the feature. It was a bit disappointing to realize that the game does not sport graphics optimized for the iPhone and iPod 4’s Retina displays; this however has been recognized by the Illusion Labs team who have stated the issue will be addressed with the coming update. Despite this shortcoming, it’s hard to even nit-pick on any other feature of Touchgrind BMX. The developers have done a stand-up job with the game and even completing all the challenges hasn’t stopped me from obsessively playing in order to improve my high scores and runs.

iFanzine Verdict: More than worthy of the praise it’s been garnering from gamers and critics alike so far. And with even more levels, content and improvements planned, the sky is the limit for Touchgrind BMX. Highly recommended!

[xrr rating=5/5]