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Review: Little Amazon (iOS)

Sunday, January 13th, 2013 by

little_amazon_title
There are so many endless runners in the App Store, from Canabalt to Jetpack Joyride, that few people would question an exasperated sigh or a roll of the eyes at hearing those words. The best endless runners bring something different to the table, such as the life bar in Punch Quest. The unique twist of Little Amazon, it seems, is the way that it progresses a story.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Little Amazon, developed by Ctools Studio and published by BulkyPix, does a lot of things right. The catchy little song, for instance, instantly drills its way into your brain. While many endless runners have committed to pixel art, it’s hard not to notice just how nicely animated Little Amazon is. The running animation and slight blur of Lily’s hair when she jumps just looks great. Even Lily’s helper, a little spirit named Splash that absorbs one hit, owes more to Sonic the Hedgehog’s bubbles than your regular runner.

The new rumble in the jungle: Meteor versus Meteor.

The new rumble in the jungle: Meteor versus Meteor.

The world you run through, a procedurally-generated jungle composed of manually crafted map segments, looks terrific. It’s been a long time since I’ve so much as thought about parallax scrolling, but the three background layers found in Little Amazon move so seamlessly that it’s hard to ignore. The cloud and cavern segments you unlock are not as beautiful, but they provide a nice change-of-pace. You’re not going to have a lot of time to admire how good the game looks in motion, anyhow, as you evade all the baddies and bramble scattered throughout.

While not visually impressive in stills, it certainly impresses in motion.

While not visually impressive in stills, it certainly impresses in motion.

The core gameplay itself is fairly basic. You’ll collect coins and death, which is conveniently colored black and purple, for as long as you can. The coins, in turn, go into three different upgradeable skills: Powers, Jumps, and Skills. Powers are the magic spells that are mapped to the left button, Jumps are jumping skills tied to the right button, and Skills are passive abilities that help Lily in various ways. There are also one-time-purchase Talents that add a static passive ability or unlock new areas.

Missions, now a staple of the endless runner genre, also make an appearance here. They are very basic and dare not stray far from the Jetpack Joyride formula, even using the same “high five” terminology. A few of the missions, such as “Travel X meters without paying attention to the coins” aren’t particularly clear. Regardless, the coin rewards they bring are a definite blessing in the early going.

Don’t let the coins scare you off. Like the best free-to-play endless runners, it gets easier as you progress. There are Collectable Sun Coins to be found strewn throughout the jungle. When five are collected, you get a hefty coin reward. Both the appearance rate of these collectables and the reward they give can be upgraded. Though in-app purchases are by no means necessary to enjoy Little Amazon, I suggest buying at least the ninety-nine cent package to remove ads. The advertisements aren’t invasive by any means, but the 20,000 coins you get can then be put into raising the collectable appearance rate and reward, giving you a nice jump start to your game. You may as well kill two birds with one stone.

Check out the Super Mario Bros. homage, there. I haven't noticed anything else, though.

Check out the Super Mario Bros. homage. Jump off the clouds and collect coins.

Finally, there’s the story progression. It’s strange, in a way, how things go. Cutscenes open up after traveling a set number of meters in the game. The progress is independent of your numerous failures. This addition could, and perhaps should, be adopted by other games in the genre. However, while a noteworthy change, it is not implemented well. Story-wise, I had finished the game within a few hours and hadn’t even noticed. It wasn’t until I unlocked subsequent cutscenes, which contained no dialogue whatsoever, that I realized it. If there were a more compelling story in place, it could be a really good motivator. As is, it falls a bit flat.

There are a few problems, though. Little Amazon has a few bugs that are a little too easy to run into. For instance, I’ve been able to replicate a disappearing graphic layer bug when moving from the jungle to either the clouds or the cavern. While that’s not a real problem when you move to the clouds (just let Lily fall and you’ll harmlessly return to the jungle), it is a game ending glitch in the cavern where spikes abound. I have also gotten stuck in a one-space pit with no recourse but to restart my run. For people who may be interested in ascending the leaderboards, this could spell tragedy.

While Little Amazon will surely get overlooked by many gamers who look towards Joe Danger or Time Surfer for their action thrills, there is a lot of gaming goodness well worth a look. Little Amazon can stand tall with the big boys as another entertaining endless runner for anyone who just hasn’t had their fill.

4 star

(Little Amazon is universal and chock-full of Apple-exclusive goodness and features GameCenter leaderboards and achievements, iCloud save sync, and AppleTV AirPlay-compatibility. The game was tested on both an iPhone 4 and iPhone 5.)

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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