As a West Australian and a game lover, it’s only natural that when a new iOS game is released by a local game development studio that you immediately want to show your support for the release. However, as a journalist, that approach would deliver unfair and biased reviews whose insight and critique would mean very little as any adulation or criticism must be justified and without prejudice. So, in the spirit of being completely fair but also %100 being behind WA developers, I’m going to shed some light on Snow Spin, the latest venture from EZONE.
Generally speaking, presentation is likely going to be the first thing an app user or reviewer will notice, and often, the icon design alone will become a deciding factor as to whether or not a potential buyer will purchase or investigate an app. Snow Spin is not EZONE’s first game, and as such, it’s evident that they know what art is appealing. The chunky graphics of the wide-eyed characters appeal to those looking for light, casual games, and definitely to children who seem to be the target audience here. With this is mind, I enlisted the help of my eight year old for his invaluable impressions of Snow Spin, and yes “Fair Work Aus.”, I actually paid him in chocolate.
Comparing the art style of Snow Spin to EZONE’s earlier releases shows they have taken this game is a new, fresher feeling direction. Initially, the 3D cartoon is engaging and promising enough for both myself and my son to start bashing the start button impatiently. However, instead of the usual menu I was expecting, it took a clever turn, and as a direct result of the mad screen-smashing it is actually you, the gamer, who causes the plane crash that initiates the game. The unique introduction had me interested, and yet, I was just as suddenly disappointed. Instead of the continuation or interaction to really begin the story, we were instead left with a crashed plane and an unceremonious waddle onto the Level 1 pad. At first glance though, the world design was engaging and lively, and the clearly defined level path was explorable from the very beginning, which my son in particular enjoyed. The ability to scroll freely through the simple yet charming landscape scattered with adorable characters and intriguing obstacles gave a sense of a colourful story follow. The level presentation was equally as bubbly with a mix of white expanse of the snow fields punctured by ever-present penguins and our colourful hero. These immersive cartoon-styled graphics are usually a hit with younger gamers, and it did not let EZONE down.
However, this is where Snow Spin begins its unfortunate decent down the snowy slopes. While direct narrative isn’t necessarily a requirement for puzzle or casual games, this one would have greatly benefited from a plot that outlined the essentials or at least gave us some way to identify with the hero. For example, the hero (who I’ll be referring to as Mo for the purpose of this review, and to pay homage to his respectable nose-neighbour) starts his journey by waddling away from the crashed wreckage without so much as a hint that anything is at all out of the ordinary for him. Granted, he may just be a terrible pilot and this kind of fiery development isn’t enough to distract him from his moustache grooming, but both myself and my son weren’t satisfied with the premise.
Additionally, It was clear that my son waiting for some type of comic or cut-scene as he pointedly asked, “Why did he leave all his belongings?”, “Was this where he meant to land anyway?”, and several other questions that hadn’t even occurred to me. As an adult, I instead surmised that the narrative would likely play out during the level progression, and hoped to prove my point. Level one provided basic training, but no inline to the story or anything to distinguish Mo from one of the penguins, we are simply left to assume a basic survival story. Each level had a collection criteria which was explained in a one line intro; food crates, firewood or igloo bricks were essential to whichever survival task Mo had apparently decided on. While the animated changes to the world map after each achievement were a nice surprise, it wasn’t enough to propel the game forward when it really needed some narration and character insight. By level 6/7, both my son and I weren’t too phased about Mo’s snowy fate.
In fairness, this is very common with mobile apps, and the truth of the matter is that good controls and gameplay could have easily redeemed the shortcomings in the premise. And yet, I feel the design fell short of not only what was possible, but also what they had clearly been attempting; a back view game with simple and responsive controls. A single swipe system to move Mo left or right and up to jump, it was fairly straightforward. However, this execution also meant that the directional swipes were to predetermined distances only and that collecting an obstacle to the far left took two swipes, and had to be timed correctly. Not a big deal? Initially, no, Mo responded well, but as each level’s speed increased and littered with more obstacles, the frustration really started to show.
As a children’s game, it quickly lost it’s fun as the 3D playing field and objects had to be correctly judged and timed with multiple swipes. For a young gamer, this meant several attempts per level, and it wasn’t long until I noticed a dwindling interest. I have to admit though, I also struggled to judge on the faster levels, and used up all the continue coins to meet targets. The gameplay would be decisively more user friendly if Mo moved the length of your swipe or maybe had a mini map to decide early enough which side of the screen you should aim for. However, the bonus when you fail was ironically one of the most enjoyable moments, with a simple up swipe to launch Mo as far as possible before he faceplants. This was a fun consolation to level completion, but it would have been better to have it explained opposed to the caught-of-guard attempt you get the first time you crash.
Regardless of the target audience, sound design can be a key feature during gameplay and EZONE clearly learned from their previous releases to improve this in Snow Spin. The music was upbeat, yet not overpowering, and also matched the art style well. The sound effects were another level of cute for the tuxedoed mascots, but I would have liked some for Mo, even some Mr Bean styles mumbles or exclamations would encourage us to care about saving the penguinesque hero. As a fun and light game, some exaggerated fanfare for achievements or high scores could be interesting, but I was grateful for the lack of high-pitched nonsense that many apps employ.
Overall, while I would like to say it’s a fantastic creation from the team at EZONE, it just misses the mark as being either a children’s game or a casual app. The difficulty and lack of storyline, bar unconnected level intros, left my son moving on from it very quickly; while as a casual game, I found it unsatisfying and unable to hold my attention. Snow Spin is enjoyable to look at, and I can see potential with further development and level diversity, but as it stands currently, I’m not inclined to go back to it. I’m confident with the success in the past that EZONE will redeem themselves with future endeavours, but I’m sorry to say Snow Spin won’t be the one to achieve that.