Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Calling it quits with the animal kingdom, a Tiger and a Bear have decided they want to become human — it’s much easier to hold an iDevice when you have opposable thumbs, after all, so who could blame them? Thankfully, a godlike being named “Hwan-ung” knows how to get them from Point A to Point B. Not so thankfully, he’s asked them to complete the harshest of hazing rituals: they had to hole themselves up in a cave, scarfing down nothing but garlic and mugwort for one hundred days. So the Lion and Bear dutifully completed that and checked back with Hwan-ung for their reward, only to find that demonic hordes absconded with the heavenly sage. Cue animal rage, and you’ve got yourself a premise for a side-scrolling beat ’em up!

CLAW (Out Now for $1.99, Lite) lets the player start off as either the swift Tiger or the harder-hitting Bear, helpfully maintaining multiple save files for switching characters without losing progress. While thrashing the tar out of some of the wackiest creatures and bosses ever beheld on iOS, the player can splurge cash collected in dozens of levels on stat upgrades and special attacks for his or her chosen beast.

While playing CLAW, I couldn’t help but reflect on why I so loved Streets of Rage 3 — the yet-unsurpassed pinnacle of this genre. A great brawler has tons of depth: multiple characters and a wide selection of attacks, some dial-a-combo and others context sensitive. CLAW gets the first part right, as the Tiger and Bear feel adequately different in the player’s hands. Now, if the player could just do more with each of them! The number of actions available to the player in CLAW can be counted on exactly one hand: a regular attack chain, a dash, a dash attack, a signature special attack once the beast’s rage meter is full, and because I feel generous, a more powerful regular attack chain once the beast has gone into rage mode. The dash ability being so underwhelming in its range, CLAW seems to make a point of reminding the player that it’s a hulking brute he or she is controlling, not a ninja-like character who can dish out a ton of different moves — and it’s always the latter that are more fun to play as. KungFu Warrior provides a useful contrast when it comes to gameplay depth.

On the other hand, the range of fascinating enemy designs and behaviors to be witnessed in CLAW almost make up for the limited moveset. Fire-breathing rabbits, weird things carrying giant exploding eyeballs, and carnivorous mushrooms are pretty epic in a genre known more for run-of-the-mill thugs than fascinating fauna. Enemy design goes hand-in-hand with the dash button, keeping the player on his or her toes lest the protagonist fail to escape exploding eyeballs and puddles of acid puke in the nick of time.

I’ve also come away from CLAW with faith that the virtual joystick is an interface element well suited to this genre on iOS, but that doesn’t mean the UI implementation here is without its kinks. The virtual joystick’s radius is frustratingly small in the release version, leading to plenty of occasions where the player might reach for it and fail to latch onto the control point. With a healthy radius expansion it should feel just right in updates. Once again, I’m also putting the player’s ability to rearrange buttons to his or her liking on my wish list for updates, though the dash and attack buttons are sensitive enough to be reliable.

As with creature and boss design, CLAW hits the ball right out of the park in the aesthetics department. It’s got a range of compelling Asian tunes to go along with a wide variety of hand-drawn environments, and the sprites appear cel-shaded yet richly detailed. If developer Jellyfish Games can improve in the translation and gameplay depth departments, could they become iOS’ answer to Vanillaware? They’ve got a clear shot at it if you ask me!

iFanzine Verdict: An imbalanced beat ’em up, CLAW packs in lots of content and presents a top-notch aesthetic while falling flat in gameplay depth. The Lite is worth a whirl for genre fans at the very least, just so they can see all the cool minions running amok in this one!

[xrr rating=3.5/5]