I bet you really want to like A Ride Into The Mountains.
It's got C64-era pixel-art graphics, a cool indie-sounding name, and it's all about a little boy on a horse with a bow and arrow. It looks like Ico meets Zelda meets Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP meets Chuckie Egg.
The good news is that you've just about got your wish. This game is charming, imaginative, and surprisingly varied given that you spend the duration firing sticks from the back of a large mammal.
But some woolly controls prevent it from being the unqualified left-field success that every decent person wants it to be.All aquiver
You play as a little boy called Zu whose family is entrusted with protecting a relic on a mountain. One day something that looks like a meteorite lands on the mountain, so you jump on your horse and head for the impact site.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the meteorite was full of demons.
You start off charging left to right through a bamboo-coloured forest. Bizarre floating root systems and pine cone-shaped demons hover above you firing shuriken stars and waves of lethal black stuff, and you pick them out of the air by sliding a finger away from them and then lifting it to loose an arrow.
The longer you hold, the faster the arrow flies, and you can activate your focus ability - a sort of archery-based bullet-time - by tapping the screen with a second finger. To move across the screen you tilt your iOS device.
The tilt controls aren't the most responsive ever made, and if you're in the wrong place when a projectile comes your way you've got as good a chance of shooting it out of the sky as you have of simply getting out of the way.
Once you've galloped through the first stage the camera switches to a top-down view, with the consequence that you can now tilt in every direction, and not just left and right.
The demons, meanwhile, get a little bit cannier, sheltering behind objects with intermittently available openings. Then the wind comes along, forcing you to adjust the trajectory of your shots to compensate. After you've got past that section, you never have to deal with wind again.
And so it goes. A Ride Into The Mountains is constantly introducing new ideas and then dispensing with them to make space for other new ideas.
There are open and linear top-down sections and several side-on sections, all of which feel different. Even when the terrain is familiar, the demons aren't - though their random designs are uniformly crackers.Tilt to shiv
The terrain itself can be beautiful, thanks to a muted, natural palette of colours and some artfully understated parallax scrolling. The story is beautiful in its own way, too. The English translation is poor, but the conceit of a child battling demons while occasionally pausing to draw on his ancestral wisdom is innately compelling.
Cleverly, the narrative supplies the pretext for the levelling-up. At one point Zu stops by a lake and dips his head into the water to recuperate. The experience makes him stronger, the game says, and so you get another heart. Later, Zu catches himself thinking about home and manfully cuts the reverie short. The length of time you can focus for is duly increased.
But it's the demons that constitute the game. Defeating these is initially straightforward, but as you reach the tougher stages you need to start identifying patterns and weaknesses.
Some can only take damage when they're a certain colour. Some are orbited by bats that attack you if you hit them but die in the explosion made by the demon if you manage to score a direct hit.
One of them can even dodge your arrows - which is made even more troublesome by the fact that you've run out of arrows by that point, and so must catch the ones that are fired at you.Bow selecta
It's when you're battling with these more complicated foes that the unresponsive, woolly, borderline counter-intuitive controls start to take their toll.
It's challenging enough to operate your bow and arrow by dragging your finger away from your target, but when you have to do this with a degree of accuracy while also tilting out of the way of missiles, you'll wish you could be doing something as trivially easy as rubbing your tummy and patting your head.
The focus ability takes the edge off, and so does the fact that you restart pretty much where you died. And, in the end, the controls won't be a serious impediment to your finishing the game. But they never feel tight or enjoyable to use - tolerable is as good as they get.
A Ride Into The Mountains packs in a lot more diversity than your first couple of minutes with it might lead you to expect, but it's still over pretty quickly. It'll probably take you an hour or so to finish it for the first time, whereupon you can do it all again to get more trophies using better bows. Tellingly, there's a trophy available for completing the game in under 15 minutes.
There are bigger, tidier, and more enjoyable 69p games on the App Store, but A Ride Into The Mountains deserves the qualified recommendation we're giving it because it has enough charm and ingenuity to persuade you to put up with it despite its faults.