Ava — who is now all grown up — no longer has time for the toys she once played with as a young child, especially since she is always hanging out with her clique of friends these days. Unfortunately for our heroine — however — one of her childhood toys is not about to take this shunning lightly, and the stuffed witch doll shows up one day to cast a spell upon all of Ava’s friends. Now Ava must venture forth — across three different environments — if she wishes to retrieve her friends from the magical toy box, and put a stop to the jealous machinations of her witch doll once and for all.
So goes the set up to Ava’s Quest (out now, free), Nemo Games’ recently released platforming title — complete with old school style brutal difficulty — for iOS based devices. To complete the game players will have to engage in a healthy dose of old school platforming, as they jump — double jump — and head stomp their way to victory across thirty different stages. When I say old school here I am not only referring to Ava’s bright graphics and menagerie of unruly wildlife, but also to the fact that the game’s later levels have been designed to extract tears of blood (especially if you’re trying to earn badges).
One thing I should point out right off the bat is that — while the game is not a freemium based IAP fest — to call Ava’s Quest a free release would be a heavy misnomer, as what you’re actually downloading on the iTunes Marketplace is a demo version. Those whom decide that they want to go the full nine yards with Ava, rather than merely sampling the first area, will need to pay a nominal fee of $1.99 to permanently upgrade their copy. While one could further pay beyond that to unlock all of the game’s levels up front, this is not needed as the player could achieve the same result purely by playing through the entire game.
Anyways — getting back to topic — the controls in Ava’s Quest have deliberately done their best to reference an NES controller with the left/right buttons on one end of the screen, and the B/A buttons on the other side. Players will use the A button in order to command Ava to both jump and double jump, while they will press the B button in order to fire Ava’s gun (which is not useable until the ability has first been unlocked). While many other iOS games have attempted the exact same on screen button layout for a platforming title, few have managed to pull it off nearly as smoothly as is seen within Ava’s Quest.
Nemo Games has furthermore gone the extra mile here by including functionality in Ava’s Quest for the rarely supported iCade controller, although — thanks to Ava’s already impeccable on screen controls — it won’t feel quite as necessary here (then again, it’s usually the games which don’t support it at all that seem to need it the most).
Moving on, anyone whom has ever touched a Super Mario Bros. game (which hopefully is everyone reading this) should immediately know what to expect from all of the platform hopping — coin collecting — and enemy stomping action found within. While perseverance will enable most to basically finish Ava’s Quest, especially since dying only forces you to redo the current level, true completion will require a full badge collection. All of the stages in Ava’s Quest — excluding boss levels and the hidden time trials — have five different badges that can be earned: fast run, full coin run, diamond run, puzzle piece run, and no damage run (thankfully these can be earned piecemeal across separate runs).
The concepts of ‘full coin’ — ‘no damage’ — and ‘time’ are probably already self evident purely by their title alone, so I will instead spend my time explaining the ‘diamond’ and ‘puzzle piece’ badges instead. Hidden — sometimes quite diabolically — across each stage will be a single puzzle piece and diamond, both of which award a badge if the respective level is finished while carrying either one of them. While the diamond merely awards a large number of points, and can be recollected many times, various other features — such as the aforementioned gun — are only unlocked after enough unique pieces are obtained. By striving to complete all of these extra challenges — which will certainly make Ava’s Quest last much longer — one will quickly begin to appreciate all of the care and attention that Nemo Games put into their level designs, especially in regards to the speed badges.
While this is certainly the part of Ava’s Quest that will probably most heavily appeal to those who first cut their teeth on old school platformers, it unfortunately does not come with an entirely clean bill of health. For instance: I once discovered a puzzle piece during a one way falling segment found on level 2-1, yet every time I retried the level afterwards there was a glitched up block appearing that completely blocked off the puzzle piece. While problems like this will currently not stop one from outright finishing Ava’s Quest, they will definitely sour the mood of the more hardcore players (especially when there’s an IAP option to unlock the gun early, further exacerbating frustration with this glitch).
Anyways, for those whom are looking for a classical old school gaming fix – yearning for a day when skies were blue, platforms floated inexplicably, and wildlife was always cantankerous — Ava’s Quest is a much needed trip down memory lane. I further applaud the inclusion of flawless controls, and also the deeply rewarding challenge badges that make you want to replay the levels over and over again until you’ve fully mastered them. The matter with some of these badges currently being categorically impossible to earn — thanks to some bugs that randomly pop up — is the only unfortunate fly in the ointment so far, and I sincerely hope the Nemo Games does rectify this issue in the near future.
iFanzine Verdict: If you’re looking for a true at heart throwback to old school platforming titles, which truly remembers what used to make the genre great, then Ava’s Quest would certainly be a fine choice to purchase. It has the blue skies, it has a gaggles of unruly animals, it has the precision platform hopping, it has the coin collecting, and it even has the secret hunting that became quite prevalent during the 16-bit era. In particular, the quest for obtaining all five badges on each stage — which greatly expands the title’s running time — will instill in one a sense of just how much passion went into each level’s design. Above all else, it has an extremely responsive touch based control scheme that you will never find yourself fighting with (and even has iCade support on top of that for those whom actually own one). While there are currently some unfortunate bugs that can interfere with obtaining all of the aforementioned badges, I have faith that Nemo Games – judging from how important Ava’s Quest was to them – will soon be rectifying these.