Review: Little Acorns (Xbox Live)
Time for something that is a little bit more straightforward in terms of goals, gameplay, and complexity. Little Acorns is an arcade game, pure and simple, and it's all the better for this tight focus. There are some genres that respond well to complexity, but the 2D platformer is not one of them. Thankfully developers Chilingo have avoided the temptation to do anything fancy with the game.
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.11
Like any good platform game, there is a plot line that you can safely ignore, but for completeness sake you are the head of a family of squirrels, and your job is collect enough nuts over a number of levels to make it through the year. With 80 levels in the game, you have four years of survival to plan for, and that means you are going to need to collect a lot of nuts.
The nuts are distributed over a typical platformer level, with various types of platforms at different heights that you can run along and jump up to. Some of the floors will crumble as you step on them (but they will regrow after a few moments). To increase the complexity on offer in the level design there are also 'swing points' where you can jump, throw a rope in the air, and swing like Spiderman through a level to get more height or reach otherwise inaccessible locations.
Give it a few levels after starting and you'll reach the other staple of the platformer - the creepy crawly bugs and enemies that can only be killed jumping on their heads. Interestingly, touching one of these enemies (be it a caterpillar, spider, or something worse) does not kill you or force you to start the level again - you just say 'oww!' and slow down for a little bit.
The ongoing challenge does not come from the monsters, but the level design and extra goals. Collecting all the acorns on a level will open the exit to the next level. Tricky, but doable and that's enough to progress through the game, but Little Acorns also asks if you can do various things on a level for extra bonuses, such as collecting all the fruit that appears after you have collected the acorns or complete the level in a speed run and finish under a certain time. All of which mean a greater potential longevity of the game. The design is smart, it's relatively easy to move on to the next level with your nuts, but the extra challenges are both extra and challenging.
I love the controls as well. With just three on-screen buttons to deal with (run left, run right, jump) and huge hot zones on the screens for these controls, I had very little difficulty in using the controls precisely. Throwing the rope out was a matter of tapping the jump key while in the air (and hitting it again to release the rope). Smooth, accurate, and doesn't get in the way. That's partly down to having only three digital controls in the game design, as opposed to a big analogue stick and three or four types of fire buttons in other titles, but it works well, and required no conscious thought while playing. A big thumbs op on the control system from me.
Unfortunately all of this is let down by the inability of Little Acorns to save your game's progress. If you leave the game at any point, be it to check an incoming text, pick up a call, look up something on a website, you must return to Little Acorns using the fast app switching method so the app can remember your progress. If you go into Little Acorns from a pinned live tile or the Xbox Live gaming menu, a new game is launched, and all your progress is lost.
And if you do try to use the fast-app switching, but your Windows Phone has needed the memory for something else, then you are out of luck and back to the very start of the game once more!
This is, bluntly, unacceptable. An app should default to preserving data at every point, especially a mobile app. That's 80 levels of game, with acorns, speed runs, fruit to collect, ongoing progress... all of that forgotten if you launch the game from the start screen, and only retained while you are playing the game or the app is retained in memory when you switch away to another task. There's no way at all I can have confidence that Little Acorns is going to remember my progress in the game. That's the definition of #fail right there and is more than enough to stop me playing.
I can't recommend Little Acorns (at least at v1.0). If the saving was sorted, we'd be looking at a score somewhere in the 80s. The game has everything needed to be a successful platform game on a mobile platform, except it doesn't understand or take into consideration the needs of a mobile platform. I'm amazed Chilingo let this out in its current condition. So it's a 49 score... as high as I can make it without breaking the 'thumbs up' 50% barrier.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at