App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
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Sometimes it's the weirdest concepts that work the best. A bowling-based puzzle game with tilt controls, potholes in the lanes, disco lights, ramps, and dozen upon dozens of pins to knock over? It may sound oddball, but in practice Tilt-a-Bowl is an absolute romp.
Using either tilt controls or touch controls to move the ball left or right as it rolls down The Never-Ending Bowling Lane, the idea is to knock over all the pins and reach the goal. A maximum of three pins can be missed along the way to clearing a level, although sometimes the ball can pass through a life ring and cancel out any pins ymissed previously. As the puzzles get progressively harder extra elements are introduced like ramps, potholes, and the lava lamp power-up that adds both a 2x multiplier and a far more welcome brief splash of 70s funk - oh yeah. There are 48 puzzles to complete and an Endless Mode which is about surviving as long as possible before running out of missed pins.
While the optional touch controls aren't particularly impressive, the tilt controls are wonderfully responsive. It doesn't take long to get a sense for how the angle of your tilt affects the speed of the ball as it zips across the lane. Crucially, the gutters add that element of risk when trying to dart manically from side to side. The level design is excellent too. It's quite simple at first, just a matter of following the line of pins down the lane, but by the end of the game it's all about trying to pull off crazy-hard, crazy-precise moves. It's things like landing the ball after clearing a ramp so that it knocks pins on both sides of it into other pins, and trying to negotiate the acute of acute chicanes followed by a cluster-bomb of potholes. The last 16 puzzles will definitely not be done on the first go, not when there are about 50 to 100 pins to clear in each one and tons of obstacles and pitfalls to clear. The difficulty lmay be very high, but the instant restarts along with the short length of the levels help to give Tilt-a-Bowl the a persuasive death-grip on my attentions. It's got that same one-more-go feeling that made the Xbox Live Arcade game Trials HD such a colossal hit a couple of years ago, and on a personal note a complete and utter timesink.
Aside from the touch controls, my only real criticism of Tilt-a-Bowl is that it has a little too much dependency on some level design patterns, things like the chicanes, and the knocking of one from one side of the lane to three pins on the other side, and so on. There is definitely scope for a little more diversity, although the last few levels are a great mix of the sublime and the infuriatingly tricky. Even the frame rate slowdown - on an iPhone 4, by the way - isn't too much of a problem because the game slows down with it, and on the harder levels a little reduction in pace isn't such a bad thing.
Tilt-a-Bowl has excellently designed and satisfyingly gruelling bite-sized bowling puzzles, all with tilt controls that are so easy to pick up and use to full effect. If that's not enough, it's also got purple lava lamps and cheesy disco funk, more than reason enough to declare it a winner in my book.