The more mature Mobotniks among you will no doubt fondly recall the dawn of the video game era with Pong, in the late 70s. We’ve come a long way in 30 years, and high-def visual spectacles are now a dime a dozen. To its credit, the iPhone does a hell of a job jogging alongside the big boys of the home console world, but Squareball doesn’t give a toss, quite frankly. It ditches the idea of fancy graphics in favour of good old-fashioned gameplay. Indeed, its closest relative is probably 30-year-old Pong. Does the gamble pay off?
In a word: yes. Squareball is unadulterated proof that gameplay can stand firmly on its own two feet, and any graphical dressing-up is a mere bonus. In Squareball, your goal is simply to guide a constantly-bouncing ball to the end of each stage, smashing all the green blocks along the way. If you bounce through a gap in the top or bottom of the screen, you lose a life. There are also blue blocks to smash for 100 bonus points, and occasional pink blocks worth 1,000 – but they demand impeccable timing (and a huge pair of cojones). Later in the game, the levels begin to scroll vertically, and there are dastardly red blocks which must be avoided.
Squareball is tremendously challenging from its first levels, and it doesn’t let up. But, as hardcore as Squareball is, it’s never unfair. Whenever you find your ball bouncing through a hole in the roof or ceiling, you only have yourself to blame. As such, it’s hugely satisfying when you finally make it to the end of a particularly tough level.
The control system is suitably simple, but incredibly effective; using the touchscreen, you control the maze, not the ball. The ball bounces up and down at a constant speed, but you have no control over it; instead you move the maze around to guide the ball to safety. As you progress through the levels in Squareball, you’ll have to make some heart-stoppingly precise movements, but it’s unbelievably rewarding.
Squareball's old-school chip-tune soundtrack deserves a special mention too. You’ll definitely want to have it cranked while you play.
- Challenging but rewarding gameplay
- Innovative control system
- Awesome soundtrack
- Tremendously tough
- Insanely difficult
- Bloody hard
Summary: Squareball really is absolutely bloomin’ brilliant. Somehow, it manages to be both unashamedly retro and refreshingly new. Definitely not one for casual gamers or the younger audience, but for those of us willing to invest time and persevere with the challenge, you won’t find much better than Squareball.
Compatibility: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
Price: 59p on the App Store