The Case of the Missing Tutorial

Part Ent, part amphibian, all acrobat. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the Treemaker (Out Now, $0.99), the star of Mikrotie’s iOS physics puzzle debut. This shadowy creature is apparently on a mission to grow trees in its environment, which it easily does as long as it can get within arm’s reach of the seeds laying around. The problem? The Treemaker’s world consists entirely of floating platforms and other not-so-stable objects, which the smiley-faced creature will have to navigate by slinging sticky roots, Spiderman-style.

Tragically, Treemaker starts off on the wrong foot with a live tutorial that is much too sparse. It lets the player know he or she is supposed to tap on the underside of platforms floating above the Treemaker to make him sling a root, and tap again to release, but in the absence of further info his swing is anything but Indiana Jones quality. After watching the poor Treemaker flail about helplessly and plummeting to its doom time and again, the head-scratching player is liable to turn it off and pop another buck elsewhere in the App Store. This is a real shame, because there’s a great physics puzzler buried here — you just have to do a lot of guesswork to find it.

Two critical pieces of info are absent in Treemaker‘s opening tutorial. First, the player has to actively shape the Treemaker’s swing by dragging him in an arc once attached to a platform or other object. Second, the mysterious set of feather-like slashes at the top-left of the touchscreen represent the player’s performance; one of these is consumed every time the Treemaker casts a root, and ending each level with at least two remaining is necessary to unlock the next set of levels.

Once the frustrating misunderstanding is out of the way, though, Treemaker becomes a really fun and unique physics puzzle experience! There’s lots of impressive slingshotting to be done here, releasing the Treemaker at just the right point on its swing to fling the creature through gaps in walls. Having to budget the Treemaker’s attempts makes for a satisfyingly tight challenge, and an addictive sense of accomplishment sets in every time the player’s just barely able to make the creature reach out and graze a seed to activate it.

Level design also evolves considerably as the player progresses, introducing new environmental elements like blocks that must be pulled out of the way and hinging columns that enhance the Treemaker’s swinging ability once affixed. On the downside, the increasingly complex environments scream for a pinch-zoom. The game uses a dynamic zoom and arrows to direct the player into unseen areas, but it would still be great to have manual control over what can be seen at any given moment.

Treemaker‘s environments are sparsely populated by simple models, but it’s still beautiful to behold thanks to the whimsical 2D art that comes into play in all the Treemaker’s root slinging and tree growing. The game’s music tends toward peaceful, nature-friendly fare, and I found it all quite agreeable to the ear. On the aesthetic downside, I experienced occasional frame rate issues on my iPod Touch 4, but we’re informed by Mikrotie that this issue is restricted to fourth generation iDevices and they’ve already submitted a fix hot on the heels of the game’s release.

Weighing in at eighteen levels total, Treemaker packs enough content for the price range in my opinion, but it falls far short of the content inflation we’ve been seeing lately — players no doubt expect upwards of sixty levels even at the price of a buck nowadays. Treemaker can be counted on for about two hours’ worth of entertainment at any rate — and that’s after its gameplay is actually figured out.

iFanzine Verdict: A great physics puzzler done in by a poor tutorial. If you’re willing to contend with some guesswork – or if you’ve already been prepared by our review, for that matter! – this is one that physics and action puzzle fans would do well to swing into.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]