Catcha Catcha Aliens! is an iOS game that blends aspects several other games. Can it exceed the sum of its parts? Let’s find out.
All I knew about Catcha Catcha Aliens! before playing it was that Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry provided voices for the game. It’s not the first time they’ve done so, but for an iOS game to garner such talent is notable to say the least. Upon watching the credits the plot thickens; not only does Jonathan Ross provide his voice to one of the characters, but he’s also credited with the idea & concept for the game as well as being a co-writer and co-designer. It’s fair to say that his involvement with Hot Sauce Interactive and this game has been extensive.
What of the game? It’s best described as an infinite runner-style game in three dimensions. The camera sits high above and behind your chosen character – either be-quiffed dude Ray or cutesy robot M4RI4 – as you dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge the obstacles laid along the path. Added complexity comes from the Nuclear Entrapment Device (net, to you and me) that you’ll use to catch aliens, and the upgrades and collectible power-ups you’ll be using along the way. Mechanically the game is pretty intuitive; swipe to jump, duck/slide and turn corners and tilt to maneuver the character into position behind the catchee. But there is also a double tap to activate your chosen power and press-and-hold to activate the Boost mode, which provides a short period of automatic movement that provides some respite in the more frantic moments.
More on the reason later, but this review would have been very different about an hour into the game. I was to be found clinging on to my iPhone by the tips of my fingernails and the fortunate strength of my frugality, so strong was my desire to launch this game out of a window. Clearly I had skipped an instruction during the game’s not insubstantial tutorial, because I had no idea that the in-game shop contained upgrades and continues that would make the entire experience not only deeper, but a lot easier. Trying (in vain) to play the game without these assists is an exercise in sado-masochism, but also illuminates its pretty robust and challenging base experience. Imagine playing Rock Band with an entirely random note pattern that sometimes obscures the upcoming notes… oh, and it’s a different pattern each time the song is restarted (the levels appear to be procedurally generated). By 12 levels into the first world, with a target of catching 45 aliens, I was beyond frustrated.
Thankfully I took a peek inside the shop and I was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of upgrades, continues and character costumes, all purchasable with in-game currency that is earned in pretty decent amounts through playing. There are options to buy in-game currency with ‘real money’, which is a little disappointing given the game itself costs £0.69 – a case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, instead of opting for either a standard purchase or freemium option. The shop provides four different special abilities, of which the Booster is always equipped (as mentioned) and the Mega Net – a giant net that captures all invading aliens on screen – is my preferred optional secondary power.
“Invading aliens?”, you ask. In addition to dodging obstacles and nabbing aliens, there are indigenous aliens who should not be caught lest your score take a pretty significant dive. And that’s where we come full circle to the celebrity vocal talent: Stephen Fry’s Zub Zub talks the player through most of the tutorial and explains that Catchers are employed by the indigenous species to rid their planet of the invading aliens. The tutorial goes on for about the first 20 minutes of the game and interrupts so extensively that I (stupidly, my shop-related faux pas has made me realise) could not resist skipping through it to get to actually playing. It’s frankly too long and too intrusive, despite the entertaining characters and voices delivering the information. Jonathan Ross lends his voice to S.H.I.P., your transport between planets. Both S.H.I.P. and Zub Zub chip in throughout the game to assess your performance and have some funny and snappy lines. There’s enough variety to avoid too much repetition early on, but you will hear the same snippets multiple times by the end of world three.
Structurally, Catcha Catcha Aliens! will be familiar to anyone who’s played Angry Birds or Cut The Rope; currently there are three worlds each with a distinct look and different perils awaiting our Catchers – truth be told these are basically re-skins – and with 15 levels in each world, requiring ever increasing number of catches to complete. I would be kidding myself if I didn’t say that, however good the levels look, 45 levels of exactly the same gameplay in re-skinned environments had the propensity to run short on entertainment. Thankfully, Hot Sauce Interactive have also employed the same three star rating for each level found in the aforementioned iOS games to provide replayability. In this case the stars are awarded for completing level-specific challenges. You may be asked to catch only green aliens or catch multiple aliens with a single swipe of the Mega Net – these are an interesting diversion from the basic catching objective.
Hopefully you can tell that, despite lifting several ideas from other iOS games, Catcha Catcha Aliens! brings its various parts together to be a game that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a shame that the developers couldn’t plump for one revenue stream or the other, but there’s really no need to put extra cash down on the counter. Any feelings of repetition I had were more than made up for by a deceptively deep upgrade system, the excellent graphics and the fact that I could listen to Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry until the cows come home – even if they are astutely pointing out that I’m a loser!