What was in my gaming app hopper this week? I had a choice. Something that was either blatantly derivative of an iPhone hit, involving vegetable matter and Japanese assassins, and another that was at least a little more discreet in its promotional copy.
But sure enough, when I booted up Aiko Island, there was the fruit salad of iPhone games development: Cute cartoon characters, whose adorable commodity has been stolen, and now it's time to collapse a physics puzzle and be scored for the effort on a scale of one to three.
On top of that, Aiko Island's gameplay is more or less that of the flash game Red Remover. In the game you're presented with a layout of blue and red creatures. Your job is to remove the red creatures without harming the blue ones. Doing this in the most efficient way awards you three cookies, which the red meanies have stolen from the blue. The goal is to get all the cookies back.
The puzzles are scored by time and by number of taps it takes to clear off the board. You can pop some red creatures individually, but others are immune to such a tactic, and the layouts swiftly make that kind of a crutch not a viable option. You're supposed to find the one or two keystones in each puzzle, remove it or them, and make the whole thing come apart without harming any of the blue creatures.
Aiko Island seeks to deviate from the model by allowing you to choose your own path through the more than 120 puzzles it offers, rather than unlocking them sequentially. It's nice to have that option, but it introduces a bugaboo I don't prefer, the prerequisite of earning a certain number of stars (or, in this case, cookies) to get to the more challenging levels.
Cookies are handed out for 1) beating the level (so you get at least one); 2) doing it at or under a certain number of touches and then 3) at or under an optimal time. The latter standard is extremely demanding. Even when I know exactly which pieces to pop for a perfect result I'll end up a fraction of a second over the limit.
Thus I could see driving myself crazy on some of the lower levels, trying to grind for extra cookies just to unlock some latter portion of Aiko Island.
But that's if I really wanted to go that far. I don't mean to crap on Aiko Island. Developer IceFlame put a lot of work into it. It's richly illustrated, the physics are strong, the puzzles are challenging and the outcomes are tight and repeatable, nowhere near as arbitrary as others I've seen in this formula.
It's a decent game and offers good value at 99 cents. Someone who enjoys physics puzzles and isn't jaded by the genre will absolutely get their money's worth. For others, even if there's no case to be made against Aiko Island, that doesn't mean there's a real case for it, either.
Aiko Island [iTunes]