It seems that no matter which country you live in, being a miner is one of the more dangerous occupations available. The ominously named MurderDev is also bent on showing us that a miner has to have way more smarts and resolve than your average Cave Dweller (Out Now, $0.99)! Clearly one of the App Store’s buried gems, this Dy-No-Mite reworking of a previous app is sure to have casual puzzle fans digging for more once they learn of its existence.
There’s not much story here; a miner’s simply trekking through a cavern in sidescrolling perspective, collecting packs of dynamite along the way so he can blast one shaft to smithereens before moving on to the next. Who knows what effect this all has on his employer’s budget, but it gets interesting when you consider the ways in which his movement is restricted. Aside from the need to collect all explosives, his environment changes dynamically as the player moves him around: blocks hanging directly above fall the moment he walks past, and his lack of superhuman jumping ability means he has to rely on ladders to get around vertically.
If you think this sounds like an interesting premise for a casual logic puzzler, you’ll leave Cave Dweller very satisfied. Success depends entirely on shaping the miner’s environment correctly, making the blocks composing each level fall in the correct order as it were. This requires plenty of thinking ahead once you get used to the idea, and a “Reset” virtual button just a thumb-press away will get plenty of taps as the player’s stumped time and again. The opening levels are simple enough to get the player going, but it quickly got to a point where I couldn’t hold back the word “brilliant!” every time I (finally) figured out a solution. Hardboiled puzzle fans can subject themselves to the extra challenge of finishing each level within a certain number of steps for Game Center and OpenFeint bragging rights.
The default level pack contains 23 puzzles, with an extra 10 available via In-App Purchase — and in a rare occurrence, the paid expansion is something puzzle fans might just give serious thought to. Even more important to the game’s replay value is a level creation and sharing feature, though I must admit I had a heck of a time getting it to work due to lack of documentation. Determined players will find a very friendly drag-and-drop object management system once they learn the ropes, however! The default interface takes up too much touchscreen space for my liking, but a “two-hand” control setup that splits the left and right movement buttons accordingly makes for a nice backup option.
Cave Dweller‘s visual presentation is simple but Retina-friendly, and the parallax-scrolling background is a nice touch even if it seems a tad out of place in a game that consists of one-screen puzzles. A creepy ambient track by Gary Ramsey rounds things out on an unexpectedly interesting note, and left me wondering whether any xenomorphs might eventually pop into the mine.
iFanzine Verdict: Cave Dweller is sure to be a pleasant surprise for most casual puzzle fans who pick it up. Superbly crafted levels keep its core concept fresh enough for genre fans, but those in search of a gameplay style that significantly evolves with progress will be disappointed that there isn’t more to dig into.