Hands-on with Snake refresh Hard Lines on iPhone

Serpent heading for Apple

Hands-on with Snake refresh Hard Lines on iPhone
| Hard Lines

New ideas are hard to come by. For every Portal or Tiny Wings there are thousands of puzzlers and casual games that are only distinguishable from each other by the shapes on the screen.

Developers have found a new way to innovate in recent years: the Clever Deconstruction.

This type of game - typified by Geometry Wars and Pac-Man Championship Edition - strips away everything but the core gameplay, breaks it down into discrete modes, and reduces the graphics and sound to clean, colourful lines and hypnotic beats.

Hard Lines, by Spilt Milk Studios, aims to do for proto-mobile gaming cliche Snake what Pac-Man Championship Edition did for Pac-Man and Space Invaders Infinity Gene did for Space Invaders.

Iterations and celebrations

The game is presented in familiar neon lines and divided into five modes, each of which fits Snake into a contemporary gaming trope.

Survival sees you guiding your line around the screen collecting pickups and power-ups and trying to kill a growing number of rival snakes by inducing them to run headfirst into your trail.

Deadline entails getting as many points as you can in three minutes.

Time Attack starts you off with a few seconds and invites you add to them by collecting pickups, all the while avoiding other snakes. When the clocks runs down you die.

Piñata is similar to Survival, except you get points for killing other snakes - like the Mexican party effigy, their ruptured bodies disgorge goodies.

Gauntlet is also similar to Survival, the difference in this case being that you start with a crowded screen rather than having to wait for the screen to gradually fill with snakes.

Finally, there's Snake mode, in which the goal is simply to eat pickups, which make you longer and faster. Since there are no opponents in Snake mode, your enemy is your own tail.

There are three control options: swiping in the direction you want to move; tapping the left, right, top, or bottom of the screen to move in the corresponding direction; and tapping left or right to steer in the style of a top-down driving game.

The swipe method is the default option, and it's the most intuitive (after a while you even learn to use two fingers to shimmy and hairpin), but all the methods work well and the touchscreen is perfectly responsive.

The line king

It's clear that a lot of care has gone into Hard Lines. For instance, to keep it from being sterile and clinical Spilt Milk Studios has given the lines pieces of dialogue. These are sometimes amusing, sometimes innocuous, and very occasionally irritating, but by and large the chatter is a very welcome touch.

More subtly, the lines go at slightly different speeds, imbuing the gameplay with an organic feel and creating some moments of tension as you edge ahead of speeding parallel lines waiting for the right moment to swerve and destroy them.

The touchscreen interface isn't ideal for the digital precision of Snake, but Spilt Milk Studios addresses this by making the collision detection with pickups and power-ups extremely generous - go within a few millimetres of an object and you attract it magnetically. The collision detection with enemies, meanwhile, is spot on.

Unfortunately, there's one glaring omission from the preview build we played: multiplayer. The ability to take on friends remotely or even on the same device (preferably an iPad) would do wonders for Hard Lines. Amusing in-game dialogue is all very well, but it's no substitute for the real human dialogue. The AI is fine, but this is a game that deserves I.

And there are some issues with the single-player gameplay.

Once you've acquired a rudimentary grasp of Hard Lines (i.e. played it once), waiting for the difficulty to ramp up during a turn can be interminable.

The easiest and therefore most afflicted mode is Snake, which presents no challenge whatsoever for the first minute or so of every go - a lifetime in a superslick ultramodern score-chasing game.

At the other end of the spectrum is Gauntlet, which throws you straight in at the deep end. Everything else falls somewhere between the two.

In the final version of Hard Lines, we hope to see multiplayer integration and more consistency across the modes in terms of challenge. Even in its current state, however, Hard Lines is one to look out for.

Spilt Milk Studios is submitting the game on June 6th.

Rob Hearn
Rob Hearn
Having obtained a distinguished education, Rob became Steel Media's managing editor, now he's no longer here though, following a departure in late December 2015.