Review: Rasta Monkey for iPhone

in iPhone edited January 2014
Developer Nitako has released Rasta Monkey ($2.99, App Store), a physics platformer featuring a Rastafarian monkey who must navigate across trees, collecting fruit for an older Rastafarian monkey in need of 'fruit-shake.' The developer claims that Rasta Monkey is "by far the best iPhone 2D action platformer out there". Who can resist reviewing a title with such an aggressively confident marketing quote?

On the face of it, Rasta Monkey looks appealing. Crisp, stylized graphics that have become a kind of house-style for oddball platformers are accompanied by Reggae music and quirky patois dialogue from a talking Rastafarian monkey, all of which contribute to a distinct and immersive game world.

Rasta Monkey has a simple premise as an object collection game. The novelty of Rasta Monkey is in how you navigate the levels and the controls scheme that goes with it. Being a monkey, the concept is getting into to the swing of things -- building up momentum on branches, swinging around and then launching your character at just the right moment to reach your intended destination.

This is all achieved by holding down a finger on particular areas of the screen to send the monkey spinning in the right direction. Holding down two fingers at the same time puts the monkey into a stationary spin, preparing him for launch. This is all taught in a fairly simple tutorial along with large instructional graphics which gradually disappear as you get more comfortable with the controls.

Once in the game proper, it's all simple enough getting from one branch to another, if a little awkward, and the bouncy music and graphics are enough to distract you for a while. But as you reach segments of levels which require multiple tries to get past, the frustration sets in; and it's not just two or three repetitions either. We're talking a full, frustrating five minutes of trying-to-reach-the-same-damn-branch levels of difficulty.

Perhaps it is in the snappiness of the branches -- which you will fall past again and again with only a hair's breadth between them and your monkey -- or maybe it is in the physics, which all too often feel weak, launching your monkey into impotent leaps which just send him falling to his death again and again. It could also be the controls, which are fidgety and sometimes unresponsive, making timing the extremely precise leaps required of the game very hard to perform.

In a nutshell, despite its friendly face, Rasta Monkey is a largely frustrating experience, despite there being unlimited lives and no time limit. Dying will bring you right back to your last checkpoint and then spin you around for a bit, which looks nice the first time but becomes a maddening experience after dying many times in a row. There are other examples of this too, such as timed switches which give you a frustratingly short amount of time to launch yourself through an opening in a wall, or frantically circling enemies that require superhuman levels of timing to squeeze past.

There are issues with the level design as well. In one instance, I had missed some fruit needed to finish the level, and was required to go back and get it. Unfortunately this proved impossible as a timed switch door had closed behind me, the lever, and ultimately the fruit, completely out of reach.

The visuals, while nice, aren't that nice, and get stale as the look of the game remains largely the same throughout play. In addition - it may seem hard to imagine - but the two reggae songs in the game, mixed with the screams of a Rastafarian monkey, also begin to grate after a little while.

Therefore, it's hard to swallow the developer's claim of having "by far the best" iPhone platformer. Similarly its hard to take the developer's claim to intuitive and non-twitchy touchscreen controls when Rasta Monkey's controls are a splenetic mixture of oversensitivity and unresponsive mechanics.

It's not a total disaster, though. At the odd moments Rasta Monkey comes together, it comes together well, and shows you what could be if its creator had refined the level design and made the game a little more forgiving. For now, I'd recommend to ignore the hype.
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