Penguin Patrol is a charming puzzler, but it’s low difficulty level puts it on thin ice
Grab Games recently released its new iPhone game, Penguin Patrol, and with it, a slew of cute and cartoonish penguins that easily mask its underlying puzzles. Hosting over 50 levels, Penguin Patrol is a game in which players must navigate levels of treacherously thin ice in order to rescue a seemingly endless supply of baby penguins, all while trying to optimize their pathing so that they don’t slip into icy, Antarctic waters, as the ground beneath them falls away.
The premise is loose enough: Players take control of a cartoon Eskimo who goes on a noble mission to rescue baby penguins that have been bird-napped from a sunglasses-wearing walrus. Each level requires the user to collect a certain number of penguins — by walking over them — and then reach the end, marked by a starred tile. The catch is that the vast majority of each level is covered in ice that breaks as players move.
Players control each motion by carefully sliding and holding their finger in the direction they wish to proceed. However once the player steps off the standard icy tile, it falls away and becomes a square of impassable water. The idea is to grab the minimum number of penguins while only stepping on tiles a limited number of times. Beyond different layouts, there is a wide variety of tile types as well. There are some ice tiles that can be stepped on more than once, earth tiles that never break away, and a classic staple to any ice-based level, slippery ice that players have no traction on (these do not break, but players will continue to slide until they either fall into the water, hit a wall, or reach a tile they can walk on).
This variety allows for a fair amount of challenge, which is increased by different types of penguins that are periodically introduced. Standard penguins stay put and the only challenge is to get to them. As players make their way through Penguin Patrol’s 50+ levels, however, new variations are often introduced. There are big, fat penguins that need to be pushed around, bratty penguins that require a toy be collected before they cooperate, and playful penguins that run away. The last is particularly obnoxious as they move one tile every time the player does, so users have to carefully figure out how to cut them off. If they do not, these penguins will often run into the drink and be uncollectible.
For long time puzzle gamers, any real challenge won’t come into play until later in the game, when all the noted components are in the same levels. That said, while early levels are easy to progress through with minimum requirements, achieving the maximum score is much harder.
Like most puzzle games, Penguin Patrol utilizes the “collect three of something” method of challenge boosting, in which players can either collect or try to earn three of some object. Here it is Stars. One star is granted for passing a level, one for collecting all penguins, and a third for breaking every tile of ice. Suffice it to say the last is particularly difficult to achieve, requiring a tremendous amount of pre-planning. Thankfully, should players ever make a mistake, they can undo their last move an unlimited number of times.
On the downside of things, if players don’t opt for the three star-collection aspect of the game, Penguin Patrol feels very, very easy; at least up until past the half-way progression mark. The content is consumed extremely quickly, and it is unlikely that veteran puzzle game players will get stuck for long.
In terms of presentation, Penguin Patrol is a cute looking game, making use of a colorful 2D pixel art-style and a chill (no pun intended), upbeat musical score that works well with the game’s playful style.
In the end, the contents of Penguin Patrol are above average with optional, extra challenges and creative level design. Nonetheless, the core play feels very easy at times, and Grab Games just doesn’t do anything terribly special with the app’s design. It looks cute, but nothing stands out. At least it is at least a puzzle game that steers away from the incredibly oversaturated physics-puzzle genre.
If you’re looking for a puzzler that is decent and not another physics game, then Penguin Patrol is worth a closer look.