10tons – of Grim Joggers fame – have returned to the App Store with an answer to that age old question: what would happen if you tossed a tapeworm, a death metal frontman, and a mace into a Telepod? Evidently you’d produce Ironworm (Out Now, $0.99), the meanest, most battle-ready insect smasher ever to swing around on a touchscreen.
What makes Ironworm way more interesting than your typical platformer protagonist is the fact that he’s controlled in two pieces. Trading between his grunge-haired head and spiked tail, the player swipes to get one or the other latched onto the next platform. The question of whether the head or the tail should shoot into new territory first is constantly on the player’s mind, as only the tail can smash enemies and deflect shots lobbed at Ironworm from afar. Enemies like to swarm in from all directions and Ironworm’s long body is completely vulnerable, so players can expect lots (and lots!) of retries. The key to gameplay is minimizing the amount of time Ironworm remains stretched out between platforms, and planned movements are often stymied as the player has to grab his tail and flail it around to swat enemies that have just homed in.
The thing that impresses me most about Ironworm is how fresh all the platforming tropes are when your character moves this way. Platforms aren’t just stepping stones to the level goal; they’re your main shielding in a pinch, and Ironworm can get a foothold anywhere on their surface. One exception are frozen platforms, which only the spiked tail can dig into. Rotating gears grind to a halt once Ironworm is attached, and then the player has to swing him around to get it going again. Smashable ice blocks and Angry Birds-style planks round out the gameplay elements that bring Ironworm closer to a platformer/physics puzzle mashup. Level size quickly becomes formidable, offering alternate routes that give players options when Ironworm just can’t seem to survive in a certain area.
With the physics, controls and camera all handling expertly, I can’t find any complaints with Ironworm on a technical level. There is one drawback endemic to its gameplay style, however: the going is very slow and methodical. Platformer fans are used to rushing through levels aggressively, but that’s a surefire recipe for disaster here! New enemies will have to be swatted away with just about every step, making progress feel truly inch-by-inch — and those inches have to be chosen very carefully or else enemies will be frustratingly out of reach. Players have to go in with a very patient attitude to squeeze out Ironworm’s full potential. Some upgrades to reward player performance and introduce new abilities could also have upped the ante.
One could also quibble about how little-varied Ironworm’s presentation is, despite a healthy 30-level quest over three worlds. Oozing blood-red platforms and heavy metal riffs carry the day here, constantly reminding the player just how violent and oppressive the game world is. Ironworm’s talent for stretchy contortion does impress, though! Suffice it to say that you should make sure you’re not a vermiphobe before picking this one up.
iFanzine Verdict: A solidly crafted and unique action platformer, Ironworm suffers only from its slow pace. If you’re looking for something that’s well out of the ordinary on the cheap and have lots of patience, this is one worm you’d do well to dig up.