What is it with the AppStore and spacey-spiralling circle games about little things trying to smash a big thing in the center? First Osmos, then Nukleus, now Save The Planet. Of course with such a non-specific name like Save The Planet, Reventador Games LTD’s second app store release could’ve been about anything. Saving it from what, exactly? Flood? Famine? Climate change? Godzilla? The Triffids? Dr Strangelove?
Actually, it turns out the answer is continent-sized asteroids, which are plummeting towards earth like the moon from Majora’s Mask was busy that weekend and needed his friends to nut the planet for him. Your job is to throw up temporary barriers to incinerate the approaching rocks before they can go all Armageddon, which isn’t as complicated as it sounds. You watch Tintin’s moon rocket fly in automatic circles around Earth, and you hold down the button to leave a barrier behind you that’ll roast any meteors that try to break through it.
The problem is that forming those barriers causes your ship to screech to a speed that’d make most tortoises point and laugh, so knowing when and where to form them as you give yourself time to get to the next hotspot is all that makes the difference between keeping humanity alive and watching the blue planet get booted into the sun by an errant boulder. And because any barriers that do stop an object get a large hole punched through them for their effort, you have to reform them on your next swing around if you want to stop the next volley of cosmic basketballs.
Honestly, I kinda found myself liking Save The Planet, if only for its solid understanding of basic game design. There’s one simple idea – press the screen to form barrier – and everything ties into that. Bare in mind that I did say it was a simple idea, and the game never really thinks of a way to develop the premise beyond that, but you get what you pay for, and I didn’t pay bupkiss for this, so… Yeah, pretty solid for what it is.
There’s a few other things worth mentioning. The visual design is nice and clean, the background music is suitably atmospheric, and there’s the option to buy other spaceships with (marginally) different stats. Not much of an incentive, but it does make a slight difference to gameplay and is more than most free apps would bother with. Mind you, I don’t really see the point in the pretentious quotes that pop up every time you die, something I didn’t like in Call Of Duty 4 and still haven’t warmed to. I’m standing around blowing up asteroids with my rocket ship as I wait for a delayed train, I’m not in the right mood for some pithy, fortune-cookie musing on the nature of science and humanity. Just give me more space debris to flash-fry and we can all get along with our day.
In closing, I’m almost a little annoyed. I still remember the earliest days of the AppStore, when “free” was an obvious synonym for “rubbish,” or if you were really lucky: “demo.” But decent entries like Save The Planet mean that I have to keep trawling through iTunes, looking for the treasure among the trash. Bad news for me. Good news for Thomas Webb, Rob van Saaze and Pete Whitten. But bad news for me. Damn.