From Angry Birds to Nutty Squirrels
If you're reading this, chances are statistically excellent that you know what Angry Birds is. Some of the Rovio developers who made the game of slinging poultry at green ham have founded their own studio, Boomlagoon. This studio made a game about squirrels.
Squirrels who ride in a cart.
Squirrels who like to make said cart go fast.
Go fast in order to quickly grab as many nuts as they can.
Nuts meaning acorns. Yeesh. I know this is the internet, but come on now.
Angry Birds is probably the toughest act that a mobile game could ever follow. Noble Nutlings shares much of the same art style, but none of the gameplay. You simply must get the cart from the beginning of the level to the end. As is now standard for mobile games, you can earn up to three stars per course depending on how fast you make it to the goal. Each course also has a secondary goal of collecting all of the acorns that are scattered along it.
Controls are (not surprisingly) quite simple. One virtual button makes the cart go, another activates boost. Your main focus, though, will be controlling the tilt of the cart. You can either choose to use virtual buttons or use the much more intuitive tilt sensor built into the device. As the cart goes up hills and down valleys, you will have to ensure that the wheels are tilted towards the ground or you will lose speed or, worse, tip the cart over. The game rewards you for being bold as you can earn extra bonuses for making full flips while airborne. It doesn't punish you harshly for tipping the cart over, thankfully. Instead of failing a level it respawns you where you crashed only costing you some time on the clock.
In order to get 3-stars in a level you will have to keep both wheels in contact with the ground as much as possible. You can use your boost and for some levels it seems required to do so. The boost, though, does run out and you must buy more with the virtual in-game coins. This is a free-to-play game, so yes, there is an in-game currency that you can spend real world money to get more of. That said, you do earn coins simply by playing the game so you can complete the game without spending anything as long as you play well.
Aside from refilling the boost, coins are used to get various items to customize your cart. If you want to ride in a clown shoe with apples as wheels, you can. There are bananas, stop signs, beach balls, sleds, and many more things what would only work in a cartoon world. Far from simply looking goofy, different cart items will alter things like weight, acceleration, and top speed so these options do affect gameplay.
Puffer fish + feet wheel = squirrel spinners
This game has a lot going for it. However, it also has three things going against it. First off, like a large majority of mobile games, it is best enjoyed with the sound muted. The music isn't particularly bad, but it's on the level of something that gets distracting and grating especially when you're replaying a level over and over to get the best time.
Second, the characters don't have much of a personality. Love or hate Angry Birds, you have to admit that the character designs are a big reason why the game has become as popular as it is. Each bird has a different play style and animations. There's a lot of cartoonish personality that comes out during gameplay for both them and their porky antagonists. These Nutlings don't have that. I feel it was a missed opportunity to have all three in the cart at all times. If, say, one squirrel had better handling while another gave a better top speed, then you would have been better able to connect with the different squirrels. As it stands, it's as if you took the Three Stooges and replaced each stooge with three clones of Shemp.
Three Squirrel Shemps and a Little Carty. That one's free Hollywood.
Finally, you cannot alter the zoom level. The game does zoom dynamically so that during tight spaces it closes in and during large jumps it pans out, which is fine for when you're looking to just beat a level, but really it makes getting all of the acorns in a level an annoyingly difficult thing to do. They're quite often not laid out along the fastest path, and sometimes you'll miss them because you took a jump at high speed and they were placed where you jumped over them. Others, meanwhile, are placed high in the sky where it's impossible to get them without boosting up a ramp.
This is fine as it changes how to tackle a course. My problem is with how the game chooses to show you what is coming next on the track. You don't get visual clues as to when it's best to go up a hill slowly because the acorns are in the valley on the other side, or when you should boost up it as they are high in the sky. The levels are designed to look different from one another... but not within themselves. When going up a hill that I should boost up, it doesn't look different from one I should take more slowly. I could memorize the level but, again, the visuals work against memorization not for it. The down and dirty is that the game is designed more for going fast and using your twitch reflexes. The way the acorns are placed often seems to work against that causing it to feel disjointed from the core of the design.
That said, replaying a level until you get that three star rating is quite rewarding. The levels start simple, but quickly throw in shortcuts, branching paths, TNT crate boosts, water hazards, and levels that require rapid reflexes in order to complete without crashing. You can even connect with your Facebook account, get ghost data from your friends, and race against a cart with their profile picture. What the game might lack in personality it makes up in enjoyable and challenging gameplay.
No matter how else we tend to rate games, it's the level of enjoyment that's paramount. When it comes to mobile games that are designed to be played in short bursts, Noble Nutlings floats to the top. So you should give Noble Nutlings a try; it's more enjoyable than slinging an avian into a stack of wood.
This review is based on a digital download of Noble Nutlings, provided by the publisher and played on the iPhone 5, app version 1.01.