It’s lewd. It’s crass. It’s vulgar — and actually quite a bit of fun when you get right down to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you; I’m actually surprised Bullistic Unleashed (Out Now, $0.99 Release Sale) flew into the App Store with “only” a 12+ age rating. However, beneath the lurid veneer of blood, guts and innuendo lies a physics puzzler that’ll test your brain way more than an average round of Angry Birds.
As suggested in last week’s preview, you’ll remember Bullistic most for its intricate level design once you’ve gotten past its shock value. The idea is to eyeball the layout of bombs, bumpers and gunpowder barrels and then fling your bulls at just the right angle to set off impressively destructive chain reactions. Bullistic presents a very tight challenge: once it gets into full swing, you’ll have to strategically sacrifice a bull or two to set up a victory lap for the last in line. If you’re just slightly off on a fling, a restart is definitely in order. That means tons of trial and error when levels get as big as they do here, so the Bullistic player invests a truly heroic amount of effort before getting that satisfying burst of insight. The high complexity starts soon into Bullistic’s campaign, leaving it without the welcoming and organic challenge curve that’s typically hooked casual players into this genre before.
If you’re already a seasoned physics puzzle veteran, however, you’ll be glad to find that Bullistic takes the genre to the next level in two ways. First is the branching overworld map. There are several paths to the final level, so if you’re at an impasse you can attempt another route and you’ll seldom be left without a new level to try out. Bullistic’s most endearing feature is an upgrade system that rewards the high-performance player with new bulls, each having a tap-activated special that can be used during the initial launch. Physics puzzlers typically spoon feed you new units to toss around; here you actively earn them and that’s totally refreshing.
Bullistic’s upgrade system meshes perfectly with the game’s level design. A vanilla playthrough using only your no-frills starting bulls feels doable, but new bulls open up new ways of approaching any given level. Chances are you’ll be able to go back and squeeze more upgrade tokens out of completed levels once a new bull has been added to your roster, lending the game a sort of Metroid feel — and that’s way cooler than rewarding the player with Game Center achievements alone! A minigame that lets you wantonly toss bulls at a car also pops up from time to time, and while I’m still not quite sure what triggers it, it’s a neat distraction from the usual business.
Explosive barrels and tilt controls keep the player engaged once a bull has been launched and his special move used up. Barrels are precious waypoints where you can change a bull’s direction and reacquire momentum, essentially giving him a mid-level fling. Tilting the iDevice lets you alter the bull’s course to a very limited degree while he’s in free flight; once he hits the ground, you can give him one last burst of momentum in a bid to reach a spring or speed strip before he stops. I often found myself wishing Bullistic had given more strength to the rolling maneuver, as the wait to see whether a bull will make it once you’ve given him that last “Hail Mary” roll can be excruciating. At least the game devotes a fast-forward button to abandoning the currently active bull if it’s obvious he’s reached the end of his use.
While it’s packed with over-the-top gore and other shockers, Bullistic is surprisingly on par for the genre in its presentation — that means no level music for better or worse. Lots of screaming fills the void and even navigating menus demands a little carnage, so this isn’t a game you’ll want to fire up while you’re trying to get rid of a headache. The hand-drawn visuals look great on an iPod Touch 4 Retina display, but pinch-zooming to get the lay of the land while you’re aiming can make things a little blurry. More importantly, the camera can lose track of the currently active bull if you fiddle around with the zoom level too much, so here’s hoping for a tracking fix in updates.
iFanzine Verdict: Probably not one for the kiddies and it may be a little too complex for casual gamers who haven’t teethed on Angry Birds yet, but Bullistic should really hit the spot if you’re a physics puzzle veteran looking for a title that ups the ante on the usual genre formula.