It's a rare thing to see me playing a mobile game, and an even rarer thing to see me actually enjoying one. That said, there's nothing normal about PapaQuark and their first game, Space Forest Dilemma.
Space Forest Dilemma pits you against the mighty Chris Crossfire, space pilot and maintenance engineer for the Spinner Control Centre, who seem to want to chop down a load of Octagon trees for resources. Along the way we meet the Space Forest Preservation Initiative, who want to save said trees, and the Propaganda Panda, whose job is to disseminate misinformation about the current state of the space forests. So far, so weird.
At its heart SFD, like many succesful puzzle games, is an inherently simple beast. Each level has between two and four ships to set on their way, with the seemingly simple objective of not crashing. Ships can move horizontally or vertically, depending on the direction their arrow points, and must rebound from the edges of the level four times without colliding to finish.
Sounds easy right? Not quite. This is a game of milliseconds and millimetres, leading to numerous close calls between criss-crossing ships. After a few levels Spinners are introduced: ships that change their starting direction every time another ship is launched. Chuck a few trees (that only spinners can destroy) and asteroids into the mix, and maybe launch a level with 7 different ships on a six by six grid and things soon get mighty complicated.
On top of the challenge of just finishing a level, there is the added incentive of online leaderboards. Here, shaving a couple of seconds off a previous level can move you up a few places. Each level has a time limit of a hundred seconds, but some can be beaten in less than one second if you know what you're doing. Smashing a sub-second finish feels great, but managing to carve another few seconds off your leaderboard time by doing it is even better!
While challenging, SFD avoids being frustrating by virtue of hyper-quick restarts, which is a good thing as I've logged more than 1000 attempts to beat the first 40 levels, as the game delights in telling me each time I crash. The rapid nature of success/failure helped to keep me addicted to the point of almost missing my metro stop a couple of times. The guys at PapaQuark haven't skimped on the soundtrack either (with them both being musicians) and the soundtrack runs the gauntlet from banging electro to an altogether jauntier fare.
If I had one small complaint, it's that some of the levels definitely benefit from a bigger screen, and playing on my iPod 4 was occasionally a bit fiddly. However, on a 7" android device the game ran really well, and I still managed to complete the first 40 levels on the iPod, so it's definitely not a deal breaker if you have a smaller device.
Space Forest Dilemma is available on the Google Play store (right now) and the App Store from the 6th of November. You can grab the basic version for the low price of free, but for 0.88€ the premium version is well worth a look, as it adds 60 levels to the basic game. It also means that PapaQuark can keep being weird for a while longer!