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Review: Sea Stars (iOS)

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 by

I love me some Jetpack Joyride. It’s the game I play between games. I keep coming back to Halfbrick’s little gem, and I’m not entirely sure why. Sometimes you need to take a step back to get a better look. Sometimes, like almost every episode of Scrubs, it takes a third party to show you just what answer you’ve been looking for the whole time.

Enter Hothead Games.

You remember Hothead Games, right? They worked with Penny Arcade to put out the first two episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness games before moving on to Ron Gilbert’s Deathspank series. They’re pretty good at what they do.

A procedurally-generated endless runner / cave flyer? This is not what they do.

However, that is what Sea Stars is. You take your young sea creature and go as far as you can while avoiding hazards. The game assigns you mission objectives, three at a time, that you can complete while trying to traverse the waters. They are often identical to the ones found in Jetpack Joyride, though with the setting and characters changed. In place of scientists, there are sea gulls. Red lights have been replaced by bubbles. Vehicles have been replaced by helper animals. This goes on, but you get the picture. All Hothead Games has done, really, is re-skinned the game.

However, there are key differences. Instead of touching to move up, you move down. There is a second screen added where your dolphin can jump out of the water, based upon how deep you were when you quit touching the screen. This kind of adds a Tiny Wings element to the Jetpack Joyride formula, but I don’t think anyone out there thought that would make for a great game.

Rise up from the bottom of the sea floor and make a “High Jump,” and you’ll get a colored bird. Collect all seven colors of the rainbow and you’ll get the hazard-free “Rainbow Birds” bonus and the chance to collect gold coins to spend in the game’s store. A happy, little sun comes out while the rainbow birds fly through the air… and water. It’s cute, but not particularly worthwhile.

Sunglasses. Again, cute... but cute is about all the game has going for it.

So, the game isn’t a complete copy. However, the addition of a the second screen is more a curse than a blessing. When you land a jump, you have a small buoyancy “bounce” in the water. There’s no avoiding it, no way to stay on the surface of the water. If a hazard generates right there or out of screen, you don’t have much chance of avoiding it. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a jellyfish shield. If not, game over.

Movement never really feels right. It’s easy to control and understand. If you are in the air, you can get out of a jump to do a quick fall. However, for whatever reason, the game feels floaty. Additionally, the game lacks the charm, slapstick violence, and nerd humor that put Jetpack Joyride over the top. Hell, even the missions, which made Jetpack Joyride so very different from everything in the App Store when it was released, seem like a chore in Sea Stars.

One positive change, at least it mostly feels positive, in that you get instant gratification when you collect the jackpot coin bonus shell. Additionally, since the bonus is not a slot machine but an item roulette, you’re guaranteed to get a reward for collecting a shell. However, one of the greatest moments in Jetpack Joyride was getting resurrected by your slot machine at the end of a run. The thrill of hitting that third heart on the slot is gone.

Moreover, one of the problems with such a rather direct translation of the game is that some elements just don’t carry over to the setting well. Sea creatures rather than vehicles, a dolphin (or other unlockable animal) as your main character, seagulls on the surface rather than scientists… those make sense. Then you get to the hazards. Why are some jellyfish shields while others are dangerous? What are jellyfish doing floating in the air? What the hell is a “Rocket Crab,” and wouldn’t it have been funnier if you had called it a “Rocket Lobster”?

Sea Stars is a mess, which seems so strange considering how very similar to Jetpack Joyride the game is.

However, I believe in parallels. There’s a fine line between genius and madness. Across the way, you’ll see another line where greatness and failure reside. Hothead Games took the formula to greatness, dabbled with it, and ended up on the wrong side of the line. While by no means a horrible game, considering what they were working with, it’s safe to say that Sea Stars is a failure.

About the Author

Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming. Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.

Fade to Slack has written 339 posts on Delta Attack
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