Square Off

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Platform(s): Multi-Platform
Release: 20/11/2013

If you consider yourself a “Gamer”, then you have to admit that you are or were at some point in time, a snob when it comes to mobile gaming. Personally, I’ve always been disinclined to bother downloading iOS games, let alone paying for one under the notion that apps are not “REAL” games. I considered them time-wasters that had nothing to offer serious gamers, or for that matter anyone with an attention span longer than a puppy’s. Gnomic Studios, one of Perth’s up and coming developers, apparently agreed and put their heads together to create Square Off, a mobile game that picks you up and shakes roughly while screaming “Who’s not a real game now?!”

Back in 2009, Gnomic Studios sprang into being to enter a Microsoft competition. The result was a very impressive 15th overall and second in Australia, receiving commendation for thier firework hit known as Square Off. To many those in the industry, it often feels like WA is floundering along behind everybody else when it comes to creating games, but Gnomic Studios goes a long way to prove what we already know; WA is teeming with talent and everyone damn sure better be ready for when it takes off! Gnomic looks set to continue the success and brilliance of Square Off with a follow up next year, but for now you NEED this app, and I’m going to tell you why.

Kicking off with graphics that leap from the screen is a witty and succinct back story that introduces our cuboid hero. Invasion stories may be nothing new to gaming, but the quirky hero and old favourite destruction of the mother ship was enough of a storyline to get me started before the gameplay had me hooked. The inclusion of customizing and naming your guy adds some fun to the beginning of the game, even under threat of total annihilation from an alien force a hero has got to look good! The bright and engaging graphics of the levels make for effortless exploration and a desire to see more of this animated world. And yet, the almost cute visuals stand as a complete contradiction to the soundtrack. However, from the intro onwards, the game is laced with strong beats and heavy rock that clearly says things are about to get real. Gnomic have combined the action movie soundtrack and glossy graphics to complement each other well, and the result is seamless; best served loud!
This particular alien onslaught is made up of unassuming colourful balls of floating heads (who oddly decided to put all their helmets on?) that appear easy work for your well-equipped square. You start a level with round one and think maybe this is all too easy …and BAM! The swarm begins! Any adorableness is quickly lost as round after round the chaos of floating alien heads requires additions to your arsenal, clever evasion, and using your surroundings to your advantage. Whether it’s correctly timing your dive for the holy grail of supply crates or finding that one sweet spot to bottle-neck and eliminate the scourge, each level is enticing and unexpectedly satisfying. Successfully implementing a strategy to spring a trap for a huge mega kill had me turning to the stranger next to me for a high five-luckily he knew an achievement when he saw one and obliged enthusiastically.

Honestly, my favourite part of Square Off would have to be the fact that the controls are actually made for humans! Something as integral as how well controls respond can make or break a game when playing on a mobile platform, and Gnomic has shown us exactly how it can be done. It’s a simple two thumb set up that includes a quick wheel for weapon access and smooth fleeing, but when I say “simple” I appreciate the immense amount of time and intelligent design that went into engineering controls that worked so fluently. Not only was it possible, but it was easy to aim at one alien in a crowd to trigger an explosion; a feat not common with mobile.

Summary & Conclusion
     Affordable with a lot of replay value
     Smooth and pinpoint sharp controls
     Strategic freedom to complete levels
     Fantastic art style and visual design
     No difficulty settings such as Zen mode
     Would have been nice to see more narrative

With its flawless design and the coveted replay value that most mobile games lack, Square Off is a hands down winner. Its music, graphics and delightful alien pulverization lifts Square Off out of the time waster category and insists you make time to play it. Gnomic Studios have helped WA in the right direction for producing quality games by taking a medium overrun with unoriginal minute-fillers and shot it in the face with a space gun. So as a former mobile-snob who has never paid for an app in my life, let me humbly say “Shut up and take my money!”

Bernadette Russell
Bernadette is living her childhood dream as a freelance writer in Geraldton, WA. With a life-long console habit and a self-imposed MMO ban, she fantasizes about the day when all she'll have to do is game and write. Oh, and also about meeting Link. HYAH!
Narrative 7
Design 10
Gameplay 9
Presentation 9