When did touchscreen controls get old? I might be wrong, but I always thought the big appeal of the iPhone was its control system, its screen giving players a new way to access games that bypassed a fiddly old keypad. If Let's Tap: Tap Runner (an adaptation of Let's Tap for the Nintendo Wii) is anything to go by, developers are already looking for new methods, Sega's sci-fi take on an athletics style assault course coming with a fresh approach to taking control.
To its credit, the approach gives you three options which, in one way or another, all use a tapping motion to control the speed and motion of your particular athlete. With early courses simply focusing on leaping over a few hurdles and making it to the finish line first, short and gentle taps set your runner's pace, heavy taps causing him to leap in the air to avoid obstacles in his path, the idea being to make as smooth a transition as possible between the two so you fly from beginning to end.
Of course, managing to do so relies very much upon which control method you plump for. In default mode, you're treated to what's clearly Tap Runner's most elaborate set-up, the idea being to place the iPhone on a box of some sort, tapping the edges of the top surface of the box instead of the phone itself to propel your player forward. But, sadly, this is only a moderately successful method, all too often the game misreading your taps and, despite the ability to set the sensitivity, generally leaving many races an utter mess.
Similarly, the actual touchscreen controls – the second control method and seemingly the most obvious – seem just as incapable of reading your inputs correctly, the most effective and only option available to those wanting to experience the quick-fix thrills of Tap Runner the happy medium between the two. Yes, the third control method, called 'free style', lets you tap the side of your iPhone to power your athlete, placing it in the palm of one hand and using the other to tap the ideal arrangement.
Then, and only then, does Tap Runner come alive and, while reaching the finish before the game's three computer-controlled opponents is actually fairly easy once you get into the swing of things, the sheer variety and ingenuity displayed in the game's stages means that play never ever gets boring. Particular highlights include inflating a balloon so that it explodes and shoots you across the track, blocks that fall from the sky and squash those beneath their flight path also insuring that races remain fairly tight affairs, a Mario Kart-esque “elastic band” set-up keeping the pack together.
But, as fun as Tap Runner might be once it gets going, it doesn't excuse the ineptitude of two out of three of its control methods, both variations almost unplayable in the main, only the third saving this from the abyss. At its best, this is as unadulterated as games get, but its dodgy moments threaten to undermine the package as a whole unless an update or two irons them out.