Up To The Top Review

Our Review by Sinan Kubba on July 12th, 2011
Rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar :: CLIMBING HIGH
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Despite failing to evolve beyond platforming tropes, Up To The Top's reasonably sturdy vertical platforming is supplemented well by taxing time-based challenges.

Developer: Pixeleap
Price: $0.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
Graphics / Sound Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: starstarhalfstarblankstarblankstar
Rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar

Rainbow Islands may well be my favorite game of all time, ever and ever. The 90s classic's cutesy visuals and saccharine music belie a meticulously designed vertical platformer with genuinely lofty levels of challenge. It also has the most complicated system for determining how power-ups are doled out that you are ever likely to encounter in a platformer. Rainbow Islands was so deep, so unique, and so damn good for its time. Scratch that, it's still the best vertical platformer of all time (ever and ever).

Now the vertical platformer is enjoying a renewed and very busy life on the iPhone through the likes of Doodle Jump, the clones it spawned, and a number of other lanky contenders. So now a game like Up To The Top doesn't stand out as much as Rainbow Islands did, nor does it strike as deep with its simple jumping, enemy avoiding, and coin collecting en route to its high-up goals. However, like Rainbow Islands, its prettiness masks a game more challenging than cute.

Up To The Top represents the première release for new Danish outfit Pixeleap, and the months the team has put into the game is clear to see in the sturdy but simple platform mechanics. Moving left to right is performed with two large arrows on the bottom left of the screen (held horizontally), and jumping with a round button on the bottom right. Unlike many iPhone platformers these inputs aren't flimsy and don't take long to get used to. Jumping is responsive and easy to gauge, although they can feel clumsy on platform edges.

The idea is as simple as to the mechanics: get to the goal in a set amount of time. A clock counts down, and players progress by reaching the goal before it hits zero. Sometimes levels will feature clock power-ups that extend the time. However, levels also contain enemies that will take off time when contacted. Enemies are tricky to avoid because they tend to move faster than the player character, a chubby, slightly sluggish dragon reminiscent of the heroes of Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands' predecessor.

What keeps Up To The Top interesting is the different routes through levels, some quicker and less dangerous than others. Choosing to go left or right at particular junctures can be crucial, and no more so than on the challenge levels. In these you must get a score higher than 60, the score worked out by adding the gold collected to the time remaining when the goal is reached. Gold is hidden around each level in the forms of coins, nuggets, and picks, and in the later challenge levels you have to work your routes around finding this gold rather than just getting to the top. Scores are handed out for each level, not just challenge ones, and used to work out a 3-star rating, offering a dash of replay value.

It's a neat and nifty little balance, but sadly the game is let down by really failing to evolve beyond standard platforming tropes like icy levels, spikes, boulders, etc. Up To The Top plays things too safe and as a result it feels very cliche, right from its bottom to its top. Given that it's not especially long, with 20 very short levels, it does leave me wanting for a bit more, even at the humbly low price. Having said that, the charming indie-like visuals make me forgiving of the game's limits.

Rainbow Islands it ain't, but as a debut game, Up To The Top shows plenty of promise for Pixeleap. Their game gets the basics of vertical platforming right and overall is a fun enough distraction as a short and unassuming climber. Hopefully the team's next game will reach even greater heights.

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