I reviewed Canyon Dash for iPhone recently, and praised it for the quality of its gameplay, but ended up lowering the score because of a critical lack of content and options. For the first few hours of playing Islands of Diamonds, I feared that the opposite was true of this game; that while there is plenty of content, the gameplay just didn’t match up. Luckily, after persevering with the game I found a lot to like gameplay-wise, although I have to say that accessibility and a lack of an intuitive feel will prevent many from ever getting as far as a did with the game.
That is a shame, as it is easy to see that a lot of love went into Islands of Diamonds.
Islands of Diamonds sees you take control of a perfectly spherical coconut, Seamus, given the task of navigating a series of platform based ‘islands’ to search for as many diamonds as possible. The game plays very much like Marble Madness, but with modern collectables and proper 3D obstacles.
There are many levels to play though, 30 to be exact, and there are plenty of different obstacles and objects in each, from ramps and slides to giant fan like contraptions. Each stage is timed, and the main aim is to collect diamonds scattered throughout the level, usual in the most inaccessible of locations, although the game handily gives you a quick overview of the location of each diamond before you start each level. The ‘ding’ sound that accompanies this is likely to drive you insane, however.
The levels are actually really well designed, and show a real sense of imagination, and the addition of movable objects adds a much-needed level of interaction to the game. The time limits are quite strict on the harder difficulty settings, but switching the toughness down a level helps, although you get fewer points for your troubles. The graphics are really nice, and are cel shaded, with some nice effects, with the water looking especially nice.
There is also full Game Center integration, with leaderboards and achievements, and the game also has 200 separate achievements to go for.
So, with great level design, decent graphics and plenty of content, why is that score below not a touch higher? Well, the problem with Islands of Diamonds is the lack of a real feeling of control, at least when you first play the game. You can choose between touch and tilt controls, and although the touch controls are far better than the tilt variation, it still feels like you are wrestling with the game.
Even after a few hours playing, I still never really felt 100% in charge, and crucially I never really felt like I could trust the controls. The momentum of the coconut is tough to build up and even tougher to stop, making small areas really difficult to navigate.
I would like, first and foremost, for the coconut to be far, far more responsive, when you are starting and stopping movement. Secondly, either have an onscreen, virtual trackball to make things easier, or even just bite the bullet and offer the option of a simple virtual analogue joystick. Thirdly, and finally, make the ball/coconut a bit smaller, allowing for a greater room for error on the part of the player.
These three additions would make for a far more playable game, and make it feel like less of a battle for control.
Despite this, I liked Islands of Diamonds. It reminded me of several Amiga era games. Once you learn the oddities of the controls, the clever level design does begin to suck you in, and the attractive graphics also help to encourage you to find out what the next area looks and plays like. Like Canyon Dash, I would have loved to score this higher, so lets hope that some updates are in the works.