One of the iPad's most impressive features is its multi-touch functionality. It can register any number of simultaneous inputs that most games simply don't need to use... but in Panopticon, you'll need to wrap your brain around using not one, not two, not three...
... but eight fingers at once.
Blimey. The last time I was commanded to use all my eight fingers was - actually, you know what, never mind.
Despite pretensions to high Steampunk storytelling and a Matrix-style plot, Panopticon is a puzzle game through and through. Coloured discs have to be dragged across the screen to their respective coloured docking nodes - and navigated through increasingly hazardous environments.
The twist is that each finger is used to directly control each disc - and that the game refuses to start until you've placed a digit on each and every one. Accidentally remove a finger and the discs slide back to their original positions.
It's like a cross between those fairground wire buzzer games and Twister... for your fingers. And to Quokka Studios' credit, it works really well. The controls are responsive and the puzzles are exceedingly clever in raw design terms. Buttons, switches and other clever little touches soon become a key part of the gameplay, making you exercise your brain as much as your aching hands.
As you'd expect, this novel (and demanding) gameplay mechanic has a steep learning curve. After all, there's not really anything else like it on the market. However, the campaign soon ramps up the difficulty after the first couple of levels and doesn't give players any time to practise their skills. Panopticon simply asks too much too quickly and becomes a frustrating and painful experience rather than the next step forward in innovative tablet gaming.
And I mean literally painful. When you have to control all eight discs at the same time - and press buttons - and navigate tight instant-fail hazards, hand cramps are the rule rather than the exception.
At least you'll have plenty to look at and listen to. Steampunk band Vernian Process provides a fantastic soundtrack that deserves a quality pair of headphones, and the lavish art design takes its cues from art deco and horrifying industrial machinery. It's a shame that you won't be able to enjoy either of them as you hurl your iPad across the room in a fit of sheer frustration.
- A novel concept with responsive multi-touch controls
- Attractive, functional visuals
- Great soundtrack
- Too damn hard to be any fun
- Literally painful
Summary: I want to love Panopticon. I really do. But unfortunately the outrageous, inconsiderate difficulty curve makes it a niche curiosity with a great presentation rather than a giant leap forward for iPad puzzle games.
Developer: Quokka Studios
Compatibility: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 3.2 or later.
Price: £1.19 - App Store