App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Stagehand: A Reverse Platformer takes the idea of running and jumping and takes it completely out of your hands. Instead of running and jumping (or even auto-running and tapping to jump) players are in charge of the game's scenery, which they can raise and lower to allow an auto-running and auto-jumping protagonist make it as far as possible in a level before meeting their demise. It's a novel idea that is implemented in a simple way, making Stagehand feel a bit like a throwback of a mobile game, which isn't so much refreshing as it is disappointing.
The show must go on
Looking at someone playing Stagehand from a distance, it might appear like a traditional platformer that revolves around a lot of platform movement. This would be because the platforming controls for the game are around raising and lowering pieces of the environment rather than controlling a player character of any kind.
The scenery in Stagehand is broken up into procedurally-generated pieces of a level that you might see from an old-school platformer, and it's up to you to slide these pieces into arrangements that allow for smooth passage. If you fail to do this, it's likely that your character will fall in a pit, hit an obstacle, or get pinned by the auto-scrolling screen, all of which result in a game over.
Learning the ropes
Getting used to the way Stagehand plays takes some doing because of its different take on platforming. This can be cause for some frustration, particularly on your first several runs.
After a bit though, you'll get the hang of raising and lower platforms which will get you further into the game where it presents some new challenges and opportunities to collect coins. These coins can then be used to unlock new characters. These new characters won't really change up the gameplay, but it does give you something to work toward beyond just mastering Stagehand.
A small production
The simplicity and retro stylings of Stagehand make it feel like a bit of a throwback title. It just focuses on being an endless runner where you control platformers and little else. While I appreciate the purity behind this design, the core mechanics of raising and lowering platforms just doesn't feel that great.
Moreover, the environmental manipulation mechanics never really feel like they escalate in new and satisfying ways. As a result, when you stack Stagehand against something like Splitter Critters, another recent mobile game focused on manipulating the environment, the whole thing just feels kind of flat and dated.
The bottom line
For all intents and purposes, Stagehand accomplishes what it sets out to do. The unfortunate thing about this though is that its ambitions fall well short of what most mobile titles shoot for these days. Even though Stagehand's unique take on the platformer is certainly new, everything else around its design make it feel painfully old.