The limited screen space on the iPhone poses an interesting dilemma for developers. How do you fit a control system into that rectangle without obscuring all of the exciting action that players expect from their handheld games?
One way of doing it is to take a lot of the control away. Of course, you run the risk of turning your game into a spectator sport, but if you manage to pull it off you can end up with a fun, intuitive game.
That's the approach that Noodlecake Studios has chosen for Lunar Racer, and while there are still a few niggles with gameplay the control system makes for some exciting, moon-based shenanigans.
Who needs corners?
The game is a 2D side-on racer that pits you against three other competitors in low gravity dashes around some of the most famous moons in the solar system.
Your forward momentum is controlled for you, so all you need to worry about are tricks, boosts, and using your gravity drive to suck you back down onto the lunar landscape after you've performed an enormous leap.
You press the left-hand side of the screen to activate your gravity drive and the right-hand side to activate your nitro. Tilting your device lets you perform back flips and front flips, which grant you extra nitro, as well as correcting your landing position.
You'll receive rockets, shields, mines, and extra nitrous boosts from stations positioned around the moon, and you can use these by tapping a button in the middle of the bottom edge of the screen.
Races are fast and furious, with a good deal of pushing and shoving from your computer-controlled opponents. You have to balance out your nitro-fuelled bursts of speed with flips and long jumps to make sure you don't run out of precious rocket fuel towards the end of the race.
In terms of content, there are ten different tracks, each with an amateur race and a much tougher pro race to beat. Each track also has three different tasks, and if you complete them you're taken to a bonus level full of Moon Bux, the game's currency.
You can spend your Moon Bux on upgrades for your vehicle, turning it into a lean, mean, race-winning machine. There's local multiplayer too, which lets you and up to three friends race it out over wi-fi or Bluetooth.
While Lunar Racer is a well polished beast, it doesn't quite get its balancing right. There are some cruel difficulty spikes, and the AI characters are a little too underhanded from the start, leaving new players frustrated and win-less.
The side-on, physics-tinged racing is fun to start with, but there's not enough ingenuity in the track design to keep you interested.
In the short term, though, Lunar Racer is a good way to waste an hour or so, and the local multiplayer is certainly a lot of fun. It's just a shame the clever controls aren't matched by equally clever design.