Line Rider Mobile
| Line Rider Mobile

What is a game? Is it something you do in pursuit of challenge and competition? Or do you play games to exercise your imagination, in the same way you'd read a book; or to stimulate your emotions, like when you watch a sentimental film? Weighty questions – too weighty for this review – but they're worth bearing in mind as you play Line Rider, because it's a game that almost defies categorisation.

The object of the hugely popular flash original is simply to use the mouse to draw lines on the screen to create a landscape that a little man can roll down without flying off the track or slowing to a stop.

There are no more goals or rules than this, but such is Line Rider's wildfire popularity that players devote enormous energy to it, creating elaborate slopes with jumps, complete with hazards and background details, to throw their avatars down. There are even videos on YouTube.

The flash version was popular, compulsive, and highly original, but was never really more than a great idea looking for a game to work in, so developer 1C's mobile version is inevitably different: more structured, more constraining, more goal-oriented. The question is, has making Line Rider into a real game improved it?

Line Rider Mobile is graphically faithful to the original, with the naïve scrawled look and hapless avatar virtually untouched. There are two game modes: Create Track, in which you're free to make your own landscape; and Puzzle, in which you start with the beginning and endpoints of a level, plus a few dashes in between that you have to supplement with you own lines to guide your avatar safely down.

Each of the generous selection of 22 levels contains a number of flags, and it's necessary to collect these to successfully complete the puzzles.

Generic lines alone can't carry the game so, instead, 1C has provided a range of specialised options, including accelerate (on which your avatar goes faster), slow (on which he goes slower), destructible (which crumble once you've crossed them), and so on. Of course, it's necessary for lines to be bent, so there's also a bending tool that you can hover over straight lines to distort them.

Getting your little man to the end of a puzzle level requires you to lay down the right mix of accelerators, normal lines, decelerators, jumps, and so on, all of which can take a lot of noodle-scratching and experimentation.

While we're tempted to say that the more features you add to the Line Rider formula, the further you drift from the safe harbour of its essence, we won't. Different, after all, isn't necessarily bad. And anyway, as you're about to see, Line Rider has enough criticisms to contend with.

The first is inevitable: control. Without the fluidity of mouse or stylus, the joy of dashing and sweeping the lines onto the screen is diminished, and cobbling together a map can be far too plodding an experience.

The second is less inevitable, and far less forgivable: game design. While there's nothing wrong in principle with using several different types of line, Line Rider's deployment of them is – ironically for a game that thrives on freedom – too free. Without a scaffold, building a successful track is an interminable process of trial and error, of cobbling together rather than visualising and creating.

Another glaring and elementary flaw lies in the fact that the page on which you create your track is massively larger than your mobile screen, meaning that if you should accidentally scroll your track out of view, you can lose it entirely.

Which is a shame, because there's evidence elsewhere of care and thought in Line Rider – not only in the excellent visual reproduction of the flash original, or the wealth of options, but in the fact that you can save your tracks and share them with other players, allowing for the kind of viral pleasure that the original transpired to give.

1C's Line Rider gives as much cause for optimism as disappointment. While we're sceptical about whether the conventional keypad can do the game justice, we're sure that there's space for a version of Line Rider on the shelf of mobile's future. Just not this one.

Line Rider Mobile

While Line Rider is a faithful reproduction of the original flash game that adds intelligently to the premise, some poor game design scuppers the obvious effort that developer 1C has put in
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.