If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the volcano

Based on what I’ve learned from popular media, I am never, ever, going to visit the tropics. It’s full of angry natives. And volcanoes. And, according to Volcano Escape, a new action-platformer from Bravo Game Studios, I’m liable to get thrown into a volcano by a bunch of angry natives. Sadly, the game isn’t nearly as fun as this concept sounds.

The game begins on some tropical island where the native populace still wears giant Tiki masks and sacrifices outsiders to their volcano. Players assume the role of a sacrificial lamb that has to (hopefully) outrun the rising lava waves and escape the volcano’s main pipe. At the beginning of the game, there’s only one character available, but more become unlocked as various challenges (like crates collected, enemies shot, or height reached) are met. Much to our chagrin, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between these characters other than their appearance.

Volcano Escape

Along the way characters will run across crates with boosts that can temporarily upgrade weapon power, jumping abilities, health, or even contain a rocket pack that will let players earn a few hundred extra feet. Of course, some of these crates can also contain items that will hamper movement for a little while too, so hitting them can be a bit of a crapshoot. Players will also be able to make platforms out of fallen enemies, giving themselves a little more room to maneuver.

The levels seem to be randomly generated, which is a nice touch that keeps things challenging and fresh. The levels are filled with various platforms that players have to navigate in order to stay ahead of the lava. As the game progresses, some of the murderous natives will hamper players. If there’s time, characters can shoot the on-screen enemies, but if the lava is close by then it may be necessary to just keep running (a difficult task at times, especially if the platform the enemies are on is narrow); bumping into an enemy too many times will result in a character’s death, regardless of where the lava is.

Visually, Volcano Escape is certainly cute. Even though it’s a 2D platformer, it sports 3D graphics that convey an appropriately goofy feeling as the action goes on. The character designs are fun, the volcano chute looks appropriately volcano-y, and the lava does a nice job of affecting the light when it starts getting close. The audio, on the other hand, is nothing special. The soundtrack sports some vaguely tropical music, but it’s not anything that will stand out. There’s also no option to play music from the iPhone’s library.

Volcano Escape

While the 3D graphics are certainly playful and nice, the color scheme sometimes makes it a little difficult to notice hazards, especially if the iPhone’s brightness is dimmed at all to conserve battery power. It’s frustrating at times, mainly because there are moments when you can’t see an enemy until it’s too late.

The other noticeable problem with the game is that it feels overly difficult, but not by design. The controls sometimes feel rather sluggish and unresponsive especially when using a character’s weapon or trying to double-jump. Using the joystick that controls weapon fire takes a while to get used to, but the jump button doesn’t always seem to work when it’s pressed – especially when a character is already in the air.

Volcano Escape certainly cute, but it’s also clunky and frustrating at times. It’s good, but not great. This is one of those titles that feels like it’s on the verge of realizing its potential, but it isn’t quite there yet.