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Vulture Island in Review – Donut Games Does It Again

 

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While it seems like several developers have “mastered” the art of churning out casual games one after the other, Donut Games is one of the few companies that has managed to do it with consistently high quality.  In the last couple of years they’ve started publishing some more complex offerings as well, the latest of which is Vulture Island.  On the surface it might seem like a simple platform game, but it has an inventory system that reminds me of the classic “Dizzy” games from the golden age of gaming.  It also veers away from the traditional “beat the first level, move on to the next” trope in a way that makes it much more interesting and satisfying to complete than your average Super Mario clone.  Platform gamers should rejoice in this new take on the genre, and those that find the all too linear storytelling of a traditional platform game dull might just find something they like here as well.

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The premise is simple: while testing an experimental flying machine, three young friends end up trapped on a mysterious island.  It’s up to you to guide them to safety, which hopefully means ultimately getting back home.  There are several things that make Vulture Island stand out from the pack.  First of all, you get to control three different characters.  That may not seem all that unusual, but in this case each one has their own set of levels.  The second thing that sticks out is that the game employs an inventory system.  This is a bit more common, but Vulture Island takes the concept to the next level.  In fact, due to the quantity and variety of items you collect, it almost feels more like a side scrolling adventure game than a traditional platform adventure.

The biggest deviation from the norm has to do with the fact that progress through the game is non-linear.  Again, that’s not unheard of in the genre, as games from Super Mario World to Mega Man allow you to explore the levels out of order.  However, much like the other features, Venture Island takes this concept to the extreme.  Not only is exploring the levels out of order necessary, but it is often mandatory.  The items you need to complete a puzzle in one level will most certainly be found in another, and in some cases you might have to revisit a level multiple times in order to uncover everything it has to offer.  Not realizing this to be the case at first I found the game rather frustrating, and was actually about ready to give up because I couldn’t get anywhere.  Knowing that the game was not meant to be played linearly changed my perspective 180 degrees, and now I can enjoy it for the challenging, thoughtful game that it is.

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Speaking of which, this game IS challenging, though thankfully in a good way.  The levels are well designed and often not very forgiving.  And if the game warns you that there’s a bottomless pit, there’s a good chance there actually is one.  Luckily, in addition to all of the obstacles you’ll have to maneuver through there are plenty of cool characters to talk to.  Some of them are there just to add some color to the game, but most of them serve some sort of purpose, whether it’s to flat out give you an item, send you on a quest or simply offer up some useful piece of information.  As a small bit of advice, always try every option when it comes to a conversation, because even the silliest choices sometimes yield useful results, and if nothing else it might provide a much needed laugh.  In addition to the plethora of inventory items you’ll receive, this depth of character interaction lends credence to the thought that this is as much an adventure game as a platformer.

To navigate through the game you use the left and right arrows to move or scroll through your inventory.  Tapping the action button will select an item from inventory, choose the currently selected dialog option or use the active inventory item, depending on your situation.  If you want to jump you use the up arrow, which in the default configuration is the final button.  I found this to be somewhat frustrating, because it means you have to tap on the screen when there is something to interact with or a door to enter, which to me interrupts the flow of the game.  Thankfully there are two alternative control schemes, both of which provide an additional button that acts as a means of interacting with objects and people on the screen.  Once I discovered this my only real gripe became the lack of a journal or some method of keeping track of quests.  Without such a thing, if you try to come back to the game after not playing for a while you basically have to walk around and talk to everyone until you can recall exactly what you were doing.  Sometimes that’s not so easy, so a list of current quests (and maybe even a way to identify what you’ve discovered in each area) would be great.

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Graphically the game falls perfectly in line with the rest of Donut Games’ offerings, which means it’s got some of the best pixel art around.  Everything is nicely detailed, and the animation in some spots is really cool.  There are times where the background feels a bit too static, though.  The sound effects are pretty average, and while it certainly would have gotten annoying eventually, it’s kind of a shame that there is no noise when you’re conversing with an NPC.  I’m not really talking about true dialog, but more like “Charlie Brown teacher speak”.  The music is nice to listen to but mostly gets lost in the background, which actually isn’t a problem here because you never really have time to focus on it anyway.

Since I started reviewing iOS games Donut Games quickly became one of my favorite developers, and they certainly don’t disappoint with this latest effort.  Once you get past the fact that this is a non-linear undertaking it’s quite enjoyable, and there is certainly plenty to do.  The characters are fun, the levels can get challenging, and there’s not too much filler.  I just wish there were an easier way to remember everything that you currently have to do.

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App Summary
Title: Vulture IslandDeveloper: Donut Games
Reviewed Ver:1.01Min OS Req: iOS 6.0
Price:$2.99App Size:25.88MB
  • Combination platform / adventure game
  • Non-linear play
  • Lots to do
  • Excellent pixel art visuals
  • Default controls not adequate
  • No quest list

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