Version Reviewed: 1.2
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S
Graphics / Sound Rating:
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Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.
Touchscreens, a relative novelty ten years ago on anything outside of the rare ATM kiosk, are a now-ubiquitous facet of our digital lives. It’s rare to find a cellphone without a touchscreen these days, save for the landfill of ‘burners’ snapped in half on one’s crime drama of choice - or that archaic prepaid monster that Grandma keeps in her glove box for emergencies. And while we’ve seen games for smartphones and touchscreen-based handheld gaming platforms attempt all manner and means of integrating tactile control schemes into their products, we’re occasionally reminded that it doesn’t always have to be all that complex.
On The Line, from Kevin Choteau, is a great example of a simple idea executed to near-perfection. The core element involves tracing a path (or more precisely, keeping one’s finger ON the path) through a constantly scrolling, constantly changing environment of curves, turns, and moving obstacles. One part endless runner, one part reflex test, On The Line boils interaction down to a very basic conceit that any kid who played the board game Operation is familiar with: don’t touch the sides. Lifting a fingertip from the screen interrupts the scrolling, negating the need to fumble around to pause or save progress and making this a perfect time killer to indulge in while queued up somewhere.
The route, constructed from a series of modules dovetailed together, is randomized for every game so there are no patterns to memorize. Players will recognize and anticipate how to approach certain sections (usually those involving moving parts), but as things accelerate they may find themselves slipping into the same kind of slightly tensed, muscle memory auto-pilot that Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360 used to provoke. That’s not to say these games are anything alike; they just seem to engage similar autonomic reactions.
The design is clean and minimalist, with the only flash coming from the soundtrack. If the music grates (which it did a bit over time with me) it’s a simple matter to mute it and boot up a soundtrack of the player’s choosing in the background. Similarly minimal is the selection of rewards and achievements, but that’s not really a bad thing. Achievements are tied to comparing the distance the player’s fingertip has travelled to the height of famous monuments - starting from Stonehenge and ending at Kuala Lumpur’s famous Petronas Towers before transitioning into kilometers. Unlocks come in the form new background colors, which isn’t much but is still something.
Supposedly more gameplay modes are due down the road, but even as it stands now On The Line is a highly addictive experience. There’s a fine line between elegantly simple and simply boring, but Kevin Choteau navigates it deftly.