You see, W.O.D.A. is hard, really difficult. Now, I like difficult games, and I have praised titles in the past for challenging players and for upsetting the recent upsurge in overly easy games. The problem is, this game commits that cardinal sin of being unfair.
When I fail in a game, I need it to be my own fault. Impatience, lack of practise or lack of skill are all the kind of reasons that make you want to improve at something until you beat it. W.O.D.A. kills you over and over again until you either get lucky or commit a certain part of a level to memory. And then get lucky.
The earliest sign that this is how the game is going to turn out rears its ugly head in one of the first few levels. The dreaded leap of faith. There are several holes to choose from to guide your ball into, and the only way to find out which is the correct one is to guess, die and try again.
The great shame of all this is that, level design aside, the game does everything else right. You tilt your phone left and right to guide a little ball of light to the level exit, and you can also jump and use a turbo on the touchscreen. These simple controls actually work very well. It’s just when you are bouncing around uncontrollably towards certain death that they can’t help you.
The graphics are great, with a minimalistic feel that is well served by the excellent piano chimes when you bounce against walls. There are helpful writing on the walls that points out danger and teases you and gives the game a unique and professional feel that should be applauded.
There are plenty of levels to play through, and the style of the game can never be brought into question, as the music and graphics combine to make the presentation top notch.
The game quickly settles into a routine of; start a level, bounce up some tunnels, hit a red light, die. Restart, bounce up tunnels again, try to avoid red light. Fail, die. Restart level, manage to avoid red light, no idea how I managed that, bouncing seemed random, go along another tunnel, down a hole onto a moving platform, fall off and die. Restart level, bounce up first tunnel again….my point is that there should always be a way of avoiding danger the first time you play a level. If I die it should be my own fault, not some totally unavoidable obstacle.
So, how can the developer improve the title? First of all, make the game scroll slightly ahead of the ball, so you get an extra second to react. Have some kind of a warning of the danger around the next corner. You can do this in several ways. A fly by of the stage, a minimap or even a visual or audio cue that instant death is just at the end of the corridor. Having any of these in the game would help remove a lot of the frustration. Having all of them would be excellent.
I know some people do like ‘trial by error’ in games but for me they have always been a sign of bad design.
There is a lot to like about W.O.D.A. The presentation, style and gameplay are all very good, but poor level design choices and a seeming lack of playtesting means that I have to do something I take no pleasure in, and that is to give an indie game an average score.