Let’s get to smashing!
You were once a proud Samurai warrior bound by honor to protect your village and countrymen. You once embodied the tenets of the ancient discipline to a T, and all foolish enough to challenge you were felled by your powerful ball and chain. You were once part of a glorious line between order and chaos; one in a long line of fearsome champions…and now you are dead.
All that remains of your once corporeal form is the ball and chain with which you doled out justice, and now, trapped in limbo someplace between man and ghost, you must smash and spin your way back to the land of the living to exact your cold revenge. Smash Spin Rage is the first in a planned trilogy of action/adventure games from developer Iddiction, and sadly proves that a semi-interesting idea mixed with mostly solid gameplay can still fall victim to the classic iOS conundrum: is touch-gaming convenient?
When we join our hero, a recently killed warrior who refuses to move on to the other side following his brutal murder, all that is left is his signature weapon, a brutal ball and chain. Through a series of finger motions (flicks, spins, etc.), you must move through limbo with the aid of a spooky spirit guide who wishes to help you right the wrongs of your past. Each level consists of several rooms separated by gates. Each new room will only open once all enemies and items within an area are smashed. By doing so, you collect coins and power-ups which can be used to power up your ball via passive means such as extra health, added spikes, more generous reach. and so forth.
The Japanese “lore” found within Smash Spin Rage is actually one of the more interesting backstories we’ve seen in an iOS title. As a ghostly ball and chain, your character is filled with rage over his untimely death, and as the greatest release for rage is smashing things (just look at those cool modern-day Japanese businesses where you can go and smash plates and stuff), this rage relief is nicely translated into pure adrenaline. The real-life Samurai caste was indeed a proud and powerful set, and even though we’re aware that none of them become disembodied weapons who battled their way across a land between the dead and the living, you can’t help but like the idea.
Controls are, for the most part, extremely responsive and satisfying, especially when a well-timed flick sends your ball flying across the screen with reckless force, crushing everything in its path. Mastering the spin technique—and the available super spin—is also satisfying, especially as later levels add plenty of crates, terra cotta statues, and enemies to spin/smash on your quest for redemption. There is even an option to switch controls for lefties, which is probably a godsend for some.
But there is one major problem that haunts Smash Spin Rage despite its well-executed control scheme: playing on the iPhone is practically worthless. The game lacks a virtual joystick, meaning you must flick and spin the ball and chain themselves, an act that places your finger(s) over the screen obscuring any view you might have had. This becomes an exercise in great frustration, and you’ll find yourself dying at the hands of an enemy you never saw coming from beneath your hand or not noticing that bottomless pit a few inches over. We did not test the game on an iPad, but presumably, the choice to make the ball itself the means of control still suffers on a larger screen; your hand is your hand and you’ll never be able to see through it.
That said, it is possible to come to terms with this flawed design choice. Upgrades to health and attacks help immensely, and as with any learning curve, you begin to compensate and work it out. Spend a little time and you’ll have mastered the delicate art of quickly pulling your hand out of the way to survey your surroundings before getting back into the action. One could make the argument that making the ball and chain the means of control was meant to showcase the weight and style of the weaponry, but it is, in a word, annoying. You do have the option of switching the overhead view to a closer angle, but trust us: this makes it even harder to see what you’re doing. Luckily each ball (or cube…you’ll see) comes with its own skill tree and number of super spins, so you’ll eventually be able to power up your way to dominance, which is our fancy way of saying you’ll become powerful enough to just flick and spin with no real direction and you’ll still manage to kill everything. Does this require strategy? No. But is it fun? Yes! And should you find yourself lacking patience, there are available micro-transactions to help you skyrocket past those pesky little things called time and effort.
Sound design is so-so. Yes, your ball sounds different when smashing an enemy as opposed to a stone column or clay statue, but even with headphones in tow there is no escaping the tinny nature. Iddiction, however, can be commended for some of the spookier ambient soundtracks we’ve heard in a game. The music found between levels is just what you’d expect—sort of angry and minimally orchestral—but the faraway clanks and thuds and the ever-present whooshing of what can only be described as an icy wind heard within each level adds a nice touch to Iddiction’s dank tomb vision of limbo.
Smash Spin Rage is actually pretty detailed graphically. Even on an iPhone you can make out individual bones on skeleton enemies, the bricks that make up the floor or columns, and wood grain on crates. Later levels that amp up the challenge with hazards like fire look nice as well, and boss battles contain some totally cool looking enemies.
Smash Spin Rage is, at the very least, one of the more interesting titles on the App Store today. It has the potential to speak to fans of dungeon crawlers, brawlers, or even Japan-o-philes. Still, it’s hard to overlook curious design choices that cause your own hand to obscure your view of the action. Sticking with it can yield a mostly satisfying experience, though, but this does beg the question: should gamers have to get used to a major flaw to enjoy a game? There is depth to be found here alongside satisfying upgrades and a pretty cool story, but it’s hard to truly recommend the game beyond the fact that it’s just plain satisfying to smash stuff.