Now this is a fun little physics number! Pendulous, like many level based arcade games, asks you to get from one side of the screen to an exit point, past some tricky obstacles. The trick to making these games fun and addictive is not in the level design, although that is a huge part of the appeal, but in a control system that is different, accurate, and easy.
Version Reviewed: 126.96.36.199
This style of game is not something that comes easily, and requires lots of thought and testing on the smartphone. I'm happy to say that Do Better Games have managed to do just that.
Your avatar in the game world is a circular collection of displaced gears, trying to make their way from the start of the level to the end in the clockwork world of the Great Machine. You do this by swinging from anchor points dotted around the level. As you pass close to a point, you will be connected to it, allowing you to swing like a pendulum.
Touching the left or right hand sides of the screen will give the swing a bit of a kick, and if you get your timing sorted, you can loop right round the anchor points. Tap both the left and right sides of the screen at the same time, the connection is broken, and you'll fly through the air (under the influence of gravity) and hopefully pass close enough to the next anchor point to connect and swing once more.
It's a delightful idea, and it works really well. The two areas that make it work - smart code and animation that doesn't slow down, and responsive controls - are both there and work effortlessly. As the game opens, it's a simple matter to go from anchor point to point, but later in the game you'll need to be very accurate in terms of when to release the connection to start a swing, and in some cases you might need to swing and release 'overarm' to fly in a downward direction with enough pace to get past obstacles such as the van der graaf style spark generators around the levels.
The design is perfect as well, with clear graphics throughout all showing the slight steam-punk ethos that seeps through the screen. The timer just in the background of the level, the tiny swirls to keep it from being a block of colour, coupled with the animated sparks, pistons, and gantries that make up each level... they all work. Below it all, the red mist that will send you back to a previous attachment point because of falling to your death is going to happen a lot.
And then all that effort gets diluted with the simplest implementation of a mobile banner ad system possible in the trial version.
There is a place for banner ads in apps, especially games, and I don't begrudge developers in using this as a monetisation technique. It's going to provide some income from those users who don't move up to the paid for version, and that's a good thing. What I don't like is when it is implemented badly.
The use of banner ads needs to be considered as early as possible in the design process - it feels like Do Better Games slapped them onto the screen at the last possible moment and it does them a disservice. People don't need many reasons to ditch a trial version of a title instead of upgrading to the full version, and the banner system here is a rash over a wonderful game.
Because Pendulous is a wonderful game. It's level-based yet feels unique and different; you have a control system that offers you pixel perfect control if you have the reactions, yet for everyone else there is a decent margin of error; and the level design pulls you in as it adds complexity, but never feels overpowering.
Do Better Games risks a lot with its name(!), but I can't see many ways the core game could be better. I'd definitely recommend the full version.
One final thing to note, and it's tucked away in the corner of the splash screen, is that Pendulous is also available on the Xbox 360 console. Expect to see more of this in the future, but for now it's a nice touch.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at