Paddle through choppy seas, avoiding man-eating sharks and accepting the help of mermaids

Stranded in the middle of a restless ocean in a leaky little boat and stalked by a man-eating shark, things aren’t going too well for the protagonist of Waves: Survivor. Rather than lie back and let fate take its course, he decides to row to freedom – which is where you come in.

What would be a monotonous, punishing task in real life proves to be a rather fun diversion on iPhone. The key to this is the excellent wave physics that send your boat up and down like a rollercoaster.

Moving forward is a simple task of pressing the corresponding virtual button, while you can also double back and (bizarrely) jump high into the air to avoid certain enemies and pick up coins.

The main skill is in minimizing the amount of water you take on board, which can happen when you row into a steep wave or land awkwardly from a jump. You have to maintain your flotation by tilting your iPhone, which corresponds directly to the angle of your boat. Moving along, matching the shape of the waves with your hands is an oddly hypnotic experience.

 Survivor

Of course, there will be times when you do take on water, which eventually sinks you and forces you to partake in a swimming mini game. This is far less successful, simply requiring you to tap a button to swim and tilt your handset to steer around any sharks or mines in your way. These sections are obviously intended to provide variety, but as they’re a lot less fun than the main section as they just serve to interrupt the flow of the game.

Back onboard your boat, there are more things to concentrate on than simply keeping the water at bay. For one thing, there are plenty of aggressive creatures to contend with. The likes of the puffer fish and the seagull can be swiped out of the way with your oar – the latter requiring some nifty mid-air execution – while the jellyfish needs to be avoided altogether, lest you get a nasty shock.

The other element to concentrate on is treasure collection. There are numerous coins left floating at various heights. This means that they’re only accessible according to the flow of the sea – high-up coins require you to climb a large wave (followed by a small hop) while you’ll row straight over low-lying coins unless you catch them in a dip.

It’s well worth persisting with though, as 25 coins will cause a mermaid to appear with a gift, while 100 coins will grant you a segment of your life-gauge back (you have four by default). Indeed, the temptation is to double back and collect each and every coin, but the constantly following shark (indicated by a gauge at the top of the screen) will put an end to any excessive loitering.

 Survivor

The goal in all of this, as with many iPhone games, is to get as far as possible without snuffing it, building up as big a score and collecting as much random stuff as possible.

It’s all complemented by some rather mixed presentation. The character art is nothing to write home about – in fact it’s rather crude and even a little amateurish. However the undulating wave technology, complemented by some lovely painterly backgrounds (the ‘blackout’ sunset effect is particularly stunning) grants the game a unique look.

That sums Waves: Survivor up in general, really. It’s a mixture of the mundane and the really quite good. It has an excellent wave-negotiating system at its core, backed by some gorgeous vistas, but it’s let down by shonky bonus rounds and poor character design.

Ultimately, though, it’s just quirky enough to stand out amid the otherwise fairly predictable seas of the App Store.