Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s far from the best. Personally, I find expensive gifts and sizeable cash donations far more flattering than some swine pinching my ideas.
Still, if you want your ego massaging, nothing says “you rock” more than someone copying your moves. The makers of World of Goo on P.C. and WiiWare must be well aware of how much they rock by now, but just to drive the point home they now have their own copycat in the form of Tropical Towers.
But to dismiss the game as a simple clone is to do Tropical Towers a gross disservice. For a start it represents the first game of this kind on mobile, which prompts a hearty thumbs-up from us. But secondly - and most importantly - it feels absolutely at home on the mobile platform.
The goal on each of the stages, which cross four themed islands (plus one ‘Mystery’ one), is to build structures that will allow five monkeys to make their way to each level’s exit. This is achieved by using a limited number of bamboo poles and linking them in an assortment of angular formations.
Move the playing cursor near to one of each level’s anchor points and the appropriate stick selection will be highlighted for you, depending on your positioning and that of any nearby structural elements, after which you can tweak the angle.
This simple, partially automated control system is anything but restrictive, allowing all manner of wonderful constructions to be produced quickly and easily, from swaying towers to suspension bridges to giant wheels.
Once your incredible feat of engineering is in place, you simply hit the left soft-key to release the monkeys.
What you’ll soon realise is that your leisurely building work has been carried out in a frozen moment of time, where the laws of physics have been put in stasis. As soon as you release your primate friends, time resumes and gravity kicks in.
If you haven’t been sensible with your construction work, you could have a simian tragedy on your hands.
As well as gravity, you have to take into consideration the strength of your structure. Any weak points will be exposed convincingly once you have five creatures swinging off them, so your wildest ideas need to be tempered by a little engineering pragmatism.
Only a little, though. Like its inspiration, Tropical Towers’s physics engine is only a loose approximation of reality, placing the emphasis firmly on fun.
You’ll emerge from many of the levels feeling that you could have tackled it in a completely different way, which is a commendable thing to say about any game, let alone a mobile one.
To provide a little impetus, and to gently prompt you in the right direction, the developers have scattered five bananas throughout each stage - one for each monkey - which you need to collect in order to achieve a perfect score.
It’s a clever way of signposting the solution in the early stages, but later levels will have you scratching your head over how to reach that banana over there with the resources you’ve been given.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect such a game to play host to particularly impressive visuals, but Tropical Towers’s presentation is impeccable in every way.
Everything is sharply drawn and boldly coloured, and the beautifully animated monkeys are everything cartoon monkeys should be - nimble, mischievous and charming. The bemused stare-out-of-the-screen look when a collapsed structure leaves them stranded is typical of the attention to detail here.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve bothered to even mention audio in a mobile game review, but Tropical Towers’s music deserves to be highlighted.
There's nothing particularly memorable melody-wise, but its tinkling, spare ditties are perfect for such a mildly taxing game, and they never grow annoying.
Sadly all this presentational excellence, coupled with the comprehensive physics engine, appears to have taken its toll technically. I experienced frequent stuttering throughout the game playing on my N95 which, while not a problem in terms of gameplay, did grow quite irritating, and took the gloss off the sparkling visuals.
I would also have liked the option of a slightly zoomed-out view once the monkeys are released, as you can often miss some of the out-workings of your plan once things kick off – particularly on the larger stages.
Technical faults aside, though, Tropical Towers is a truly excellent game, and one well worthy of its ‘Best Casual Game’ award at this year’s International Mobile Gaming Awards. What’s more, regardless of its ‘inspiration’, it stands as a wholly unique experience on mobile.