Thursday, April 22, 2021

Way of the Turtle (iOS) Review

I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more Apple Arcade exclusive goodness! After Sunday's first Apple Arcade game review, Clap Hanz Golf, SPC changes genres to a platformer of the Metroidvania variety: Way of the Turtle. Is the way of the turtle one you should follow? Let's find out with the SPC review.

 A shell-shockingly fun Metroidvania on Apple Arcade

There are all kinds of turtles in the world. Some are cool, such as your Galapagos turtles or your Teenage Mutant Ninja variety of turtles, and some are not so reputable, like Mitch McConnell, for instance. The pair of turtles that star in Illusion Labs' Way of the Turtle, a 2.5D Metroidvania game exclusive to Apple Arcade, rests firmly in their shells in the "cute" category, being a pair of lovebirds, er.... love "turtles" in this case. 

When the two find themselves shipwrecked and separated on an island teeming with gopher life (among several unfriendly faces not of the gopher persuasion), it's up to the two of them to not only reunite but to find a way off the island. This answer to a "way off the island" presents itself when the two reunite early in the game at a village filled with gophers, and the gopher chief informs them that he will help them off the island but only if they take care of the volcano threatening to erupt. 

In order to access the volcano and discover the way to save the gophers and their island from impending doom, our turtle heroes must open the gate by hitting three different switches. Unfortunately for them, this means journeying around the island looking for the abilities needed to reach them. Fortunately for us, as players of Way of the Turtle, this is a shell of a good time... for the most part.

Way of the Turtle is a unique Metroidvania. By virtue of being on mobile, your turtle is always on the move with the only way of stopping them is to have them hide in their shell. Swipes left and right on the touch screen change their direction as they move, but I found that a controller was my preferred way to play. Not only did it give me a greater degree of accuracy and precision, but also lesser bouts of annoyance and frustration stemming from touch inputs not registering properly, such as having swipes be read as presses. Thus, instead of changing directions, my turtle would leap into the air accidentally. 

Both turtles have the same base abilities, so it's more an aesthetic choice of which turtle to choose.
You can switch between turtles on the fly at specific points in the game world.

Another key thing that makes this Metroidvania unique is that Way of the Turtle plays out in 2.5D environments, where paths circle around one another and shift perspectives often. Rather than always being a straight-up side-scroller, the camera occasionally looks over your turtle's shoulder at an angle. The camera isn't always optimal, as foreground objects can and will sometimes obscure enemies and hazards, such as spikes and bottomless chasms. Fortunately, taking damage, or worse, dying, aren't penalized severely. There is always a checkpoint nearby to regain your bearings and continue from.

These retracting spiked walls really know how to get to the point!

Speaking of these checkpoints, these shell totems of sorts serve not only as places to return to upon death and to save progress, but they also allow you to switch shells on the fly. There are three different shell types in Way of the Turtle, and each possesses a different power/ability. The blue shell allows our turtle heroes to hide inside their shells, perfect for staying in one place when it's absolutely necessary, such as specific precision platforming moments where timing is everything. The green shell gives our turtles the ability to boost forward either on the ground or in midair, allowing them the capability to cross chasms otherwise impassable. Finally, the red shell serves as a great means to attack enemies easily, especially those with spikes that can't be beaten any other way. It can also flip levers to transform the environment and move platforms, for instance.

The dashing green shell is but one of a trio of shells our turtle protagonists uncover in their island adventure.

All three shells are discovered in a Metroid-style fashion. Once they're available, new portions of the world open up for exploring, as well as the ability to venture into previously adventured areas to uncover new paths and collectables in old places. Each shell has an upgrade that can be found in the world, and these range from the blue shell's ground pound, to the green shell's dash ability allowing it to smash through specific weakened walls, to the red shell's aerial spin that allows it to glide as it descends. 

Outside of mandatory upgrades to acquire in Way of the Turtle's game world, there are also two types of collectables to attain: shards and lost gophers. The latter is more for 100% completion's sake, but the shards serve as a currency that can be returned to various shop locations around the map and exchanged for increased health. Four shards can be exchanged for a new heart to be added to both turtles' overall health. Other items in the shop help discover the locations and whereabouts of the shards and gophers, revealing an audible clue when either are nearby the player, as well as revealing on the map how many shards or gophers are left in a given area of map.

Don't cry, little gopher! You're soon to be safe and sound!

While we're on the subject of the map, Way of the Turtle's arguably impressive 2.5D environments to move and jump through are both a help and a hindrance. They help make the world more interesting to explore, but they definitely hinder the simple act of navigation. The map itself doesn't really show much of anything in-depth. It just shows what areas connect to what, but it's difficult to determine in 3D environments which exits lead to where on the 2D map. So many times I'd want to get to a location on the 2D map, but didn't know how to manage it from the area I was currently at in the 3D space. A better, more detailed map would go a long way to helping with this confusion.

Way of the Turtle is a game that continues to be released in parts, so it's difficult to review somewhat. I know that I spent a good 7-10 hours with what's currently available, but had I'd just joined in on the first part, which would have ended after opening the volcano gate, I would have been none too pleased, asking "that's it?!". As it stands, I'm chomping at the bit to see what happens after battling the game's current final boss inside the volcano, because as of now, what happens immediately after beating the boss is a quick "to be continued" followed by the credits. 

Part two of Way of the Turtle's story updated with this brand-new, enjoyable volcano area.

Currently, with what is available in Way of the Turtle feels like a complete title gameplay and length-wise, just with a sudden cliffhanger that left me wanting more. That's a good thing--the "left me wanting more" part, as it shows that I did enjoy my time with the game. Inconsistent touch controls, occasionally poor camera angles, and an unhelpful, undetailed map are issues with the game, but on the whole, Way of the Turtle gets from me a recommendation like a turtle's shell: a solid one!

[SPC Says: B-]

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Clap Hanz Golf (iOS) Review

The Masters was last week, and the golf season continues to be in full swing--and yes, that was definitely some play-on words for you there on this Sunday. SPC brings to you the first review of its kind on the site--an Apple Arcade exclusive game review. It's Clap Hanz Golf, the first self-published game from the eponymous developer, formerly of Everybody's Golf fame. Is this first solo trip to the tee for Clap Hanz a Cinderella story, or is its golf game struggling? Let's find out with the SPC review!

How about a round of applause for this great game of golf?

I love the Hot Shots Golf / Everybody's Golf series. I love it because it strikes a brilliant balance of arcade-y golf goodness and simulation-style gameplay. It also doesn't hurt that Clap Hanz hasn't really bogeyed on an entry of the series yet, and this is after nearly a dozen entries across multiple PlayStation platforms. However, now Clap Hanz is on its own with a self-published, non-Everybody's Golf round on the links, and my admiration for the developer and its prestige games was the bait that got me to bite on an Apple Arcade subscription. The studio's first--and hopefully not last--self-published game is the not-so-creatively-titled Clap Hanz Golf, essentially taking the charm, the fun, and the accessibility of the Everybody's Golf series and giving it a mobile (back)spin. The end result is a solid round of golf for pros, beginners, and everyone in between!

If you've played a Hot Shots or Everybody's Golf game in the past, then you'll no doubt feel right at home with the presentation of Clap Hanz Golf. You have your similarly cartoon-y anime-style characters to play as, though they only show personality through their movements as there is no voice acting for them. You also have the familiar HUD elements, helpful menu prompts, and much more. 

Everything is pretty much Hot Shots Golf / Everybody's Golf with a new name. Though, that's not to say it's the same golf experience on Apple Arcade. Gone is the traditional three-click / three-button-press swing system from past Clap Hanz projects, where clicking once started the gauge, a second time set the power, and the final click set the accuracy. Instead, whether you're playing via touch screen or using a compatible controller, you're using a flick system to swing, drive, chip, and putt. 

Clap Hanz Golf is essentially Everybody's Golf on Apple Arcade.

This swing system utilizes a vertical bar that has you drawing a line downward to set the strength of your upcoming shot, and then flicking upward on the screen to initiate said shot. Depending on how straight your flick upward is, that determines if your shot will be hit straight or not. Of course, things like wind velocity and lie of the ball also affect your shot's trajectory. Flicking up all the way will result in topspin for your shot, which I found happened a lot until I discovered that the game just wanted me to flick halfway up the vertical shot gauge. However, occasionally my shot would peter out quite quickly, traveling but a short distance from my golfer through doing it this way. 

Furthermore, putting is a bit challenging, and I think the developers understood this as the greens in Clap Hanz Golf are nowhere near as steep or as complicated in undulations or curves as in the Everybody's Golf series. It was difficult for me to putt straight, oftentimes resulting in frustration when putts that would otherwise be a piece of cake in any other golf game with a different swing system would find themselves just short of the hole in any number of directions. Even with a controller and flicking the right analog stick upward to putt or hit, my shots often went astray. 

The greens are rather generous, but my putting ability in this game is certainly not!

That said, I must admit that part of that is because Clap Hanz Golf isn't the most accessible golf game for someone with my condition. I suffer from tremor in my hands, so it's difficult for me to use a touch screen or hit straight consistently with a controller's analog stick. Even so, I can't say I loathed the controls of the game or found them overly frustrating.

There's a good reason for that, too. Perhaps lessening the burden of lesser skilled players or for the mobile audience, Clap Hanz Golf isn't anywhere near as challenging a game as past titles from the developer. Even earning multiple pars on holes and the occasional bogey or birdie can result in a win rather than needing to be incredibly consistent like past games. Match play rounds often saw the AI hitting their shots in errant directions or missing otherwise easy putts. And tournament rounds didn't require high scores even late in the game's primary mode.

Look at that ball fly!

While we're on the subject, Clap Hanz Golf's primary mode is Tour Mode. This mode has you collecting characters and going up the ranks by earning stars from completing different events around a world map. The higher the rank you get, the more characters, courses, and events open up to you, the more challenging the latter gets, and the more stars you earn from completing said events. 

It's a golfing expedition around the world in Tour Mode.

Rather than taking one golfer in a round in Tour Mode, Clap Hanz Golf mixes things up considerably. Instead, you take a team of golfers into a round, and on each hole, the preceding character "tags in" the next character. There's a bit of strategy involved in picking which character to use on which hole. Obviously, you don't want to select a character who can't strike the ball far to lead off on a Par 5, for instance. 

Tag! You're it and you're IN!

Aside from 3, 6, and 9 hole rounds of golf, which can be suspended at any time in a mobile gaming-minded way, there are other event types to play through as well. Match play rounds pit you and your team of golfers against one computer-controlled character. The winner of the most holes serves as the victor. If you end of winning, you get that character added to your team. There are also drive challenges and closest-to-the-pin challenges, where you and a CPU opponent both get three shots to hit as far on the fairway or as close to the hole as possible, and the average distance of all three determines the winner. Unlike tournament-style rounds, these events don't earn you stars. Instead, winning unlocks new costumes and color variants for each character. Tour Mode also throws in different rules occasionally in events, such as mirroring the courses, playing a round without any wind, or the much maligned by yours truly "bunkers are out of bounds" or worse yet, "rough is out of bounds" rules.

You can build up quite the impressive assortment of golfers, each with various unlockable costumes and color variants.

Regardless of whether you win or lose an event, it's worthwhile to play through the round. Characters that participate in an event, even they don't step onto the tee, earn experience just for being on the team. Leveling up increases their maximum driving distance by a small amount, but this adds up with continued levels earned. Additionally, each golfer has a specific ability (such as being great at playing out of bunkers) and club that they favor, allowing them to make otherwise impossible shots possible, especially on-the-fringe-chip-ins that would otherwise never happen with a 3-wood, for example. 

Speaking of an alternate costume and color variant, here's one right now.

If you want a traditional round of golf where you play as one character for the entire round, then Score Attack is the mode for you. Offering the ability to play a nine-hole round of golf on any course you've unlocked with any character you've already unlocked, this mode offers plenty of fun. Depending on your character's score on a given course, they earn a ranking, which in turn, earns them points--up to five per course. After reaching certain point thresholds, they earn new costumes and color variants. Another way to unlock additional content outside of the Tour Mode.

Touching and pinching the screen to move around the camera and zoom in/out respectively
feels quite natural on the iPhone/iPad.

Clap Hanz Golf contains plenty of fun and content to keep players enjoying themselves on the links. However, the lack of any online multiplayer or even leaderboards is a bit disappointing. (CORRECTION: I was made aware on Twitter that there are online leaderboards for Score Attack and Survival modes.) Only local multiplayer is available currently with no news on any plans for online multiplayer. Furthermore, there is no way to record memorable shots to view them later. Past Clap Hanz games have had a way to view memorable shots and holes, so it's also just as disappointing that there is no such feature in this particular game. 

Between the over 20 characters to join your golfing team, 6+ themed courses taking place in locales like New York City's Central Park or the Egyptian pyramids, and hours upon hours of thrilling golf gameplay, Clap Hanz's first foray into self-publishing is a great success. While the swing system takes a lot of getting used to, as it has a somewhat steep learning curve, the overall difficulty of the game isn't that high that it creates a ton of frustration. Sure, I wanted to curse the golf gods when yet another shot of mine went off track or I missed a simple putt, but ultimately, I kept plugging and putting away, enjoying myself with Clap Hanz Golf. 

[SPC Says: B]