“Gridrunner’s a blast, and the best shooter on iOS.”
Eurogamer, March 2012. Link

Anyone who tells you that game reviews, and therefore game reviewers by default, are or should be objective has never actually written a review themselves. Whilst there are some non-negotiables (controls come to mind, though in the age of touch screen gaming even this is debatable), one man’s Street Fighter 2 is another man’s Shaq Fu. Even if a game review is broken down into the standard graphics/audio/controls/gameplay components, the fact is that we all have differing opinions as to what is ‘good’ with regard to these things.

For those into retrogaming, where the bar is set differently to modern games in each of these components, it’s hard to know what the baseline standard is. For modern reinterpretations or reimaginings of retro games, who’s to say what’s good or not. And let’s not even get into the iPhone/iPad/Android related debate of whether gaming on a touchscreen device can ever replicate devices with physical controls (Paul? ;) ). There’s a point to be made with this. Soon.

So, Gridrunner then. As mentioned in my Llamasoft article, Gridrunner is a game that Llamasoft has reinvented numerous times over the years. Starting on the Vic 20 as a more hardcore and less cutesy version of Centipede and Millipede, Gridrunner has been seen in various iterations across numerous platforms over the years. There were the 8-bit versions (Vic 20, C64, Atari amongst others) in the 1980s, numerous sequels and pseudo sequels on 8-bit, Super Gridrunner on Atari ST and Commodore Amiga in 1988/89, Gridrunner++ for PC and Mac in 2002, and Gridrunner Revolution on PC a few years ago. You can read more about the history of Gridrunner on Llamasoft’s website here.

Cue to a couple of years later and Llamasoft are now creating games for iOS (all releases so far have been universal: for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad…yay!). Jeff Minter’s creative output is currently as great as I’ve ever seen; as of the current date there have been seven Llamasoft releases in just over a year. Most of these releases have been under the banner of the ‘Minotaur Project’, whereupon games are released on ‘reimagined’ retro hardware from back in the day, but without the limitations programmers invariably faced back then. Examples include Minotaur Rescue (that looks like it was made on a suped-up Atari 2600), Minotron (Intellivision), Goat Up (Spectrum) and Caverns of Minos (Atari 8-bit). You can read more about the Minotaur Project here. Although I had grand plans to review a number of these releases, unfortunately this is the first one I’ve got around to completing (*sigh*).

There’s good reason why I feel compelled to write about Gridrunner. It’s brilliant. There are very few shreds of my DNA that were ever going to dislike this game, hence my first paragraph. This is also why I’ve included the quote at the beginning of the review, an example of how much others love the game, as is evidenced by solid reviews and also by the five star rating it currently holds on the iTunes store. I’m going to find it hard to be objective and not incessantly gush forth praise here, but I’ll do my best to explain why this is such a cracker of a game.

iOS Gridrunner takes place on re-imagined Namco arcade hardware of the Galaxian era. Upon opening game on my iPhone there’s a brief startup routine reminiscent of an 80’s style arcade machine, though it appears even more at home on an iPad sitting in an iCade. The attract mode begins for ‘Grid Runner presented by Lambco’ in a very familiar font. Lambco – see what they did there?

The game is played in portrait mode. Centipede like enemies stream onto the screen. Destroying them with your auto-firing ship produces little shootable pods that, if ignored, will turn into bombs. Watch out for the ships on the left and top of the screen as they aren’t destroyable, will send bombs or lasers your way and the other enemies can use the laser in a snakes and ladders-like manner to get closer to you. Playing aggressively will send rings down the screen, as will destroying particular enemies that always produce them (the yellow bug looking things and the Millennium Falcon-like enemies amongst others). Catching them will temporarily power up your ship in one of a variety of ways: backwards firing, three way firing and a suspiciously death-blossom-like power-up that turns the tables on the enemies as your ship becomes bullet-hell central. The ability to ‘stack’ these power-ups is one of the most satisfying aspects of the game. A bit of a tip – the purple shaded ring always produces the three way power-up – use it well.

The game grid changes colour every four levels, which is a cue for restart points. You can play in Pure mode (starting from the beginning) and in Casual mode (where you restart with your previous best ship count and score). Obviously the game gets progressively more difficult. If you make it through to the thirties, watch out! Try to accrue as many extra lives early on, as they are granted at the end of each level, along with a humorous message. Another tip: when your ship is purple you are invincible and can ‘bull’ your enemies (a term coined in Minter’s Xbox 360 game Space Giraffe) which comes in handy during the more frantic moments as you can clear loads of enemies in a short time frame.

Gridrunner is controlled with a series of swipes. There’s no dodgy virtual joysticks here – indeed you can swipe/hold anywhere on the screen. As your ship has no inertia, lifting your finger stops your ship immediately. Though it might initially feel strange, after a little bit of playtime you’ll develop muscle memory that allows you to dodge and weave apparently insurmountable enemy fire. A word of advice – upon starting your first game, activate the ‘paws’ menu (tap the centre of the screen about three quarters of the way up) and change the joystick icon from Novice to Expert. Though it initially might feel too twitchy, the extra finesse and speed will be needed to advance beyond the teen levels.

The game’s audio deserves mention. The sounds appear to have been borrowed from a number of old arcade machines and a partial list can be found here. As with many of Minter’s games there’s a subtlety in the apparent cacophony of  sounds. Specific events are signaled, often preempting what the player should do. An example can be found in the aforementioned power-ups. When they appear a generic sound appears to be played, but there’s an ever so subtle difference that indicates what type of power-up it is. Despite the lack of any music (though you can play your own) the sound effects will bring a wry smile to any arcade rat from the 1980’s.

The Classic Games Room review of Gridrunner. Check out his reflection…focus!

There are a number of other extras worth mentioning. The aforementioned iCade compatibility is great – I’ve only briefly played Gridrunner with an iCade, but the controls work very well. In fact, it works well enough that I’m considering building a cocktail arcade cabinet for the game once the long awaited PC version arrives (that’s sure to be another story). In addition both the C64 and Vic 20 versions are included as a ‘hidden’ bonus. To access them just turn your iDevice either clockwise or anti-clockwise into landscape mode. There’s also Open Feint and Game Centre leaderboards and achievements. I’m currently at just over 300, 000 on Pure and 370, 000 on Casual – how high can you score?

Gridrunner – chunky graphics ala Vic 20.

There’s not much more to be said about this game other than at under $1 it’s a must buy.

Get it (now!) if any of the following apply:

  • you like retro games,
  • are into shooters,
  • have an iThing,
  • you like old arcade games such as Galaxian or Centipede,
  • you like Llamasoft games,
  • or you just simply want to support developers who provide good value and aren’t slaves to In App Purchases.

I don’t know if it’s the best shooter on iOS, but it’s exceedingly great fun for less than the price of a chocolate bar. To poorly paraphrase a local anti drink-driving ad, “If you don’t get this game, you’re a bloody idiot”.  Heartily recommended!

“Frankly you’d have to be some manner of total
spoon-faced klutz to pass it by.”

Wosland, February 2012. Link

Four and a half bits of retro-shooty goodness out of five.
Apple App Store link.
Official Llamasoft Gridrunner (iOS) page. 

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