GameVil has a potential hit on its hands with Air Penguin, which will have you glued to your Android phone or Android tablet for hours on end. You play a penguin in this casual Android game, in which you hitch a ride on the back of sea turtles and use starfish, whale blowholes and moving platforms as stepping stones, dodging sharks, swordfish, slippery seals and broken ice – often while blinded by squid ink – in your quest through Antarctica.
Air Penguin offers 125 levels across five chapters in Story mode, where you must race to save various members of your family from melting ice caps – you get a cute showreel between each if your smartphone is connected to the web. There's also a Survival game in which you test your endurance against the perils of this frozen world.
There's a lot of variation between each level – one minute you're sliding across a sheet of ice, trying not to bump into a seal who will send you slipping over the edge; the next, you're navigating your turtle host around the gnashing jaws of sharks and slicing beaks of swordfish. Later on you're somersaulting (penguins do not fly, GameVil) across icy platforms, avoiding cracked plinths that'll plunge you into the shivering depths of the Atlantic Ocean, or navigating your way around while virtually blindfolded with squid ink.
Air Penguin: Accelerometer
The controls are simple, and based around the workings of your handset's accelerometer. Tilt the phone forwards to go straight ahead, left to go left, and right to go… well, you get the picture. While sat on a turtle's shell, tilting the phone backwards lets you float in the same spot for a while, although it invokes no reversing or braking action during other scenarios.
The level of tilt in normal handling of your smartphone is measured as you begin a level. Sometimes this went a little crazy, and we weren't sure exactly what we'd done to cause the erratic behaviour. However, you can press the pause button during gameplay to bring up a 'Reset tilt' command, which works effectively. You can also adjust the sensitivity to the accelerometer from the main settings screen, which we found particularly useful when trying to play Air Penguin over the rocky rails of First Capital Connect.
Air Penguin is said to work with Android versions 2.1 or later, and we had great fun on our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, which runs Gingerbread 2.3.4. However, gameplay on our Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which uses Android's Honeycomb tablet OS, was impossible – we didn't get off the first piece of ice. The graphics are fantastic even on this large-screen platform – it's the accelerometer that's the problem.
Air Penguin: Scoring
There are five fish to collect within each level, although you're also scored on such things as the time it takes you to complete a level. You don't need to complete every level – if you get stuck on one you can move on to any other of the game's 125 unlocked levels. And you can always go back later to collect any fish you missed – you'll want all the fish you can get, as we explain later on. It's a refreshing change from the three-star system of Angry Birds, Bunny Shooter and the like.
Your time score isn't important in the grand scheme of things, but if you're a competitive type then you'll find the need to time your jumps in line with a starfish floating to the surface or a swordfish crossing your path frustrating. For the rest of us, it simply makes the game more satisfyingly challenging.
We were surprised not to find local or global scoreboards in Air Penguin, however, with no hook-up to an online service. There are links to Twitter and Facebook, however.
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Air Penguin: Store
Air Penguin is a free game with some ads – unlike many such titles, where you get two worlds for free and pay for later chapters, every level here is available free of charge. Huge Brownie points for GameVil.
Of course, the developer does need to make some cash. This is evident in the Store, where you can buy more fish or trade in your penguin for a better model. Mommy Penguin, for example, costs 64p. You can also get a Black Penguin with a scuba mask that protects against squid ink for £3.22, and a heavier, more powerful polar bear for £1.93.
Fish cost anything from 64p for 100 to £32.31 for 10,000. These are used to obtain special powers to help you along the way, although this isn't particularly obvious within the game. Each time you fail a level, you're presented with a screen that depicts various items such as seals and cracked ice, along with a number written in a fish. Click the seal, for example, pay 40 fish, and the slippery creatures within that level will shrink down making them easier to dodge (for one time only). There's also an icon that shows your penguin plummeting to the bottom of the ocean – press this and pay 20 fish, and you'll be able to pretend it didn't happen the first time you get wet.
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Air Penguin: interface
On the whole, the graphics are fantastic. Stepping on a squid causes it to spray out ink that really does obstruct your view, although the seals and sharks look cute and cuddly rather than fearsome. Turn on the sound to get the best enjoyment, with special effects as you splash into water, slip across ice and get gobbled up by sharks.
We also liked the menu structure, which plots each level as a point on a map path. This winds itself across the ocean, eventually reaching a desperate penguin relative shouting for help.
We were left baffled by one interface element. The settings menu on the main screen offers simple icons with no text labels. Three of the four are self-explanatory – you can mute the sound, invoke the game credits and adjust the accelerometer sensitivity – but the last icon, which looks like a speaker, is a mystery. We've seen this icon before in Fishing Game for Android, in which it invoked a sensor that requires you to keep your finger in contact with the screen at all times. We're not sure what it means here, and noticed no difference whether it was on or off.
Also on the main menu is the word 'news' at the top left, looking very out of place. Click this and a banner ad appears; click it again and it vanishes. We'd like all the screen space we can get for gameplay, so this is a nice solution, but the term 'news' did intrigue us.