App Reviewed on: new iPad
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As we approach the fourth birthday of the iOS App Store, it's not like a knock-off game like Subway Surfers is surprising or shocking anymore. The vertical endless runner clearly takes almost all of its ideas from the excellent Temple Run (although Phillip Levin wasn't so positive in his review). Then again it's arguable that Temple Run is merely an obvious adaptation of all the 2D endless platformers. Still, Subway Surfers is not even subtle with how much it's taken from Temple Run. The inputs almost match, the coins-for-upgrades ostensibly match like-for-like - in fact, most of it matches up with Temple Run beyond one involving jumping over trains and the other lines of fire. And you know what, that's fair enough by me... except that it all but forces the most stringent of direct comparisons. After all, it's easier to talk about what's different with these two games.
Let's start with the positives. For one, the cartoon visuals of Subway Surfers are more appealing than the muted, almost retro look of Temple Run. By keeping the game on one straight and restricting swiping to moving tracks rather than turning corners, Subway Surfers removes Temple Run's awkwardness in tilting to strafe. Finally, the Mystery Box upgrade which can be found in-game or bought for 500 coins in the menu adds a nice gamble option, even if it's too weighted to delivering strongly positive bonuses.
Unfortunately for Subway Surfers the negatives outweigh the positives. Most crucially, the game really misses the Canabalt-like frenzy of Temple Run. Turning corners and not knowing what's there is what makes Temple Run so challenging, what gives it that damn-OK-one-more-go factor. Similarly, Temple Run gets tougher as it goes along, adding to the tension, while Subway Surfers really doesn't, making it more a test of endurance. This is reflected in Subway Surfer's daily challenges compared to Temple Run's overall objectives, with the former being more about playing the game enough against the latter which is geared towards rewarding longer, more skillful runs. With these kinds of games I want to feel like I'm making more and more progress with each run, but I don't want that feeling to be artificial - and I think Subway Surfers produces that feeling far more artificially than Temple Run does.
If this all sounds like minutiae then that's really what Subway Surfers boils down to when you compare it to the game it borrows so much from. Looked at on its own (which I'm not sure it deserves) it's an enjoyable enough romp with plenty of replay value. And it's free, and it doesn't really push purchases on me, so that's all to be appreciated. Still, it would be nice to see these values applied to new ideas on iOS a bit more, right? Ah who are we kidding...