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Spy Bot Chronicles is a follow-up to the Toy Bot Diaries trilogy on the iPod Touch and iPhone, which, you might remember from the early days of Touch Gamer, I thought was fantastic. This longer, richer, more fleshed out exploration of the superb universe created by developer IUGO has all the imagination, artistry and sophistication of the previous releases with only one small let down.
A fair amount of metaphorical water has passed under my iPod Touchís metaphorical bridge since I was enraptured by the three delightful 2D platformers that were the Toy Bot games, and it feels like time to return to the world that they so enjoyably brought to life. While it might sound like a PC program for charting instances of unwanted intrusions on your system, Spy Bot Chronicles follows on where Toy Bot Diaries III left off, whisking us back to the simply yet enchantingly drawn backdrops of planet IUGO.
We start out by seeing our hero from previous adventures tricked and captured by the menacing Thief Bot and we, in the form of our stylish new companion Spy Bot, have to, you know, do the honourable thing and go save him. OK, so like the Spy Bot series there is no attempt to convince us that we were part of a complex narrative with several novel elements, but that never eroded any of the charm before and it doesnít here either.
It appears, from the outside at least, that I have gotten exactly what I asked Santa for.
I remember commenting at the time that one of the reasons the Spy Bot Chronicles games were so exciting was the possibility of deeper, more extended, more sophisticated platformers of a similar ilk really carving out a niche for themselves on the iPhone/Pod platform. In the light of this, youíd be forgiven for expecting something of a gush-fest here, as it appears, from the outside at least, that I have gotten exactly what I asked Santa for.
Well, yes and urm. Itís certainly true that IUGO should be praised for not attempting to overcomplicate things too much with the release that could see them establish a place right near the very apex of mobile gaming. They have, on the whole, correctly identified what really worked about the Toy Bot Diaries iPhone games and stuck with the formula, building from the excellent base they had previously established whilst deepening and extending things to about twice the length and breadth of the previous offerings.
The one cloud, however, that is hanging overhead and spoiling my vista somewhat, is in the shape of the controls. The decision was made that the one element that would not make the transition was the most central one, the tilt control scheme. Whereas when we were the Toy Bot we had to use the accelerometer to direct his shuffling steps and a touch activated, super-extending magnetic grappling hook to climb and interact with things, the sharper, sleeker, cooler Spy Bot, with his black shades and upturned collar, dances to a different tune. He is an altogether more sprightly fella, who likes to run and jump and we can all guess what that means... Yes, the tilt-to-walk has been replaced by - you guessed it - my favourite, a virtual D-Pad.
Well, to be fair, before I get into why I think this decision is a disappointing one, it must be noted that the new controls are actually very good, as virtual D-Pad controls go. For a start instead of cramming in a small four-way D-Pad, a smart decision was made to utilise just two direction buttons on the left side of the screen and a separate jump button in the bottom right. The left and right buttons are large, and as such, donít suffer too much from the classic Ďno physical feedbackí issue of not easily being able to keep track of exactly where your thumbs are in relation to them, but this is always going to be an issue with this kind of setup, and I have had instances of losing a button at a crucial juncture.
Excellent physics and imaginative puzzles have been implemented with regard to Spy Botís interactions with the objects he encounters.
With Spy Bot on the iTouch and iPhone having a pretty disappointing laser gun in place of the Toy Botís awesome grappling hook, there was a risk that engaging with the world was going to become a mundane affair. However, the various touch screen interactions and several well thought out uses for them go a long way towards preventing this. While the effects of gravity and momentum are no longer as important an aspect of moving your character through the levels, similarly excellent physics and imaginative puzzles have been implemented with regard to Spy Botís interactions with the objects he encounters.
Having said all of this, however, there really is no getting away from the fact that the most significant changes that are evident in Spy Bot Chronicles have tended away from the clever maximisations of the specific features of the iPhone/iPod Touch that Toy Bot Diaries had and towards more generic ideas. Itís still a great game packed full of intelligent design ideas and creative, attractive, enjoyable elements, but for my money a little something of what was so special about the Toy Bot games has been lost. This is certainly a game that I can recommend, but I just canít help but feel that the sharp edges of the sense of thrilling synergy between game and device that so excited me and whet my appetite before, have been somewhat rounded off. Perhaps, just perhaps, I was placing too much weight on those tiny little robotic shoulders, and, in time, I will be able to enjoy Spy Bot Chronicles as much as I would like to.
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