The thing about classic arcade games is that every one of them achieves a classic balance. Pac-Man, dated though it may be, doesn’t really stop being fun to play the older it gets. Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede – they all have a timeless quality, a certain combination of mechanics that elevated them to that pantheon of arcade cabinets in the collective nerd hall-of-fame. Frogger is one such game. And so we come to Banzai Rabbit: clearly an homage to the old pixelated amphibian hero, with some fresh new visuals and a backbreaking difficulty curve.
The first obvious stand-out feature of Banzai Rabbit are the visuals. Benefiting from the burgeoning cottage industry of 3D engines for iPhone, Banzai Rabbit‘s graphical presentation is quite striking at first. Replete with garish Saturday-morning-cartoon colours and proportions, it’s clear that developer Revolutionary Concepts are proud of the work they’ve done in this department, and so they should be. It looks and feels playful in exactly the way it should -like a Road Runner cartoon. The accompanying soundtrack is less impressive, although certainly not out of place. Sadly, the game seems to be completely incompatible with iPod music.
The titular Banzai Rabbit himself resembles Bugs Bunny’s beefy older cousin wearing a costume stolen from the Incredibles set. His arch-nemesis is affiliated with fleas, having been scientifically (ahem) merged with a much less adorable creature than a fluffy bunny, and is naturally somewhat angry about the situation. Rather than simply crossing the street to be reunited with your love, in this game you must rescue hapless citizens who are being transformed into giant flies. Every time you cross the road to save a person, the perspective shifts and you travel back across the road, making five trips in total for each of the thirty-two levels.
Scattered throughout the maps are various power-ups you can collect to make your job easier. Collecting green mutagen pellets will allow the player to “bank” a number of points in order to continue the game after running out of rabbit lives – an interesting mechanic, although not one that seems like an entirely great idea. Since it requires 10 such mutagen points to add one Continue, it seems like the player must do a lot of legwork to meet that goal. Also available are two different one-time-use abilities: a super jump, which allows Banzai to bound over an obstacle, and a slow-motion power that grants greater breathing room when timing jumps.
Three different control schemes are available: finger-swipe, a typical on-screen d-pad button arrangement, and a variation of the d-pad that puts the buttons on the edges of the screen. This latter method actually worked the best for this reviewer, as the game is played in landscape mode and all the action takes place in the middle of the screen. It’s one of the few instances of iPhone gaming where using your fingers on-screen doesn’t really distract from the action.
Banzai himself is not quite as nimble as his frog forefather, however. The original Frogger was amazing in the hands of a skilled player; the two-frame animation used in advancing a single spot could be strung into a blinding series of maneuvers through oncoming traffic. Banzai’s jump animation is somewhat slower and more considered, and the traffic he faces is, shall we say, heavy. It takes some practice to learn how to time the jumps properly while accounting for the slight delay. In the later levels, Banzai Rabbit gets downright difficult. Death is instant and frequent. As of this writing, there is no Easy difficulty level (only Normal and Hard), although a patch to offer an easier time is forthcoming.
A challenge-level mode is also available, encouraging speed runs and marking high scores on a net-connected leaderboard. The game uses the AGON social media service, which offers high score functionality as well as un-lockable “achievements” for completing set tasks in-game.
Banzai Rabbit is a well-rounded package. The playful presentation and the simplicity of the gameplay makes for a great title for younger kids, although the difficulty might scare them off. The polished comic-style presentation of story elements, meagre as they are, is a great touch and adds a lot of personality to the title. While it may not live up to the lofty heights set by its inspiration, Banzai Rabbit does a nice job of re-introducing the core idea on a mobile platform with a shiny coat of paint.