Precision-Guided Munitions

For some odd reason, whenever I think of modern warfare one of the first images to pop into my mind is invariably a multiple rocket launcher attached to a truck. So, wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where all the truck-mounted Katyushas were replaced with cannons that playfully shoot watermelons instead? Evidently Batuhan Akalin must have had similar thoughts while designing his iOS physics puzzler debut, Melon Truck (Out Now, $0.99). One might also entertain it as a brainier, more humane, and less destructive stand-in for their favorite bird-flinging title.

The player’s task in Melon Truck is to shoot watermelons at a trajectory that lands them inside collection buckets labeled with points. Not just any bucket will do, either. One can advance to the next level only after achieving a minimum score, and that currently unadjustable minimum can only be reached if one or more available melons land in the highest-scoring buckets — which are, naturally, also the most difficult ones to reach. Especially creative players might squeeze by on less if they manage to strike bonus icons that take some ingenuity – and at times, pure luck – to benefit from. 

The slide mechanics for working the eponymous truck’s fruit cannon will remind many an iDevice owner of a certain bird-launching slingshot, but with one critical nuance. Whereas the process of determining trajectory in Angry Birds feels generally organic, Melon Truck encourages mathematical precision by providing angle and power numbers as the player determines the watermelon’s release vector. Thus the player can use real-time feedback to range his or her melon cannon with an accuracy that would make Napoleon jealous. That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of visceral challenge in Melon Truck: after a few introductory levels the game serves up all manner of intricate moving obstacles the player’s melon has to pass through before it lands in the best basket, and melons already in a basket potentially confound successive attempts of identical trajectory. All told, Melon Truck best serves players who enjoy tests of patient trial and error just as much as tests of precision.

Melon Truck rewards exceptional player performance with unlockable challenge levels, and the fifty-four regular levels on offer in the release version are no pushovers to begin with. Unfortunately the game doesn’t take full advantage of its well-stocked content: it’s ripe for Game Center or OpenFeint integration that doesn’t appear to be on offer in the release version, and the nature of the player’s task never evolves alongside Melon Truck‘s increasingly complex level design. At times the truck’s placement in a level creates a situation in which the player’s finger competes with the all-important angle and speed gauges in the player’s line of vision.

Still, Melon Truck benefits from Cocos2d’s unrivaled physics and user interface reliability. Levels cycle through morning, day, and night phases over successive retries so they don’t become too aesthetically monotonous, and the game is served up to a soothing tribal tune. A first-pass run through the game could last anywhere from two to four hours depending on player skill, and a second perfectionist run to unlock Melon Truck’s bonus levels is good for a few more in addition.

iFanzine Verdict: Melon Truck distinguishes itself in the crowded physics puzzler genre with real-time feedback that helps the player improve his or her performance with mathematical precision. On the other hand, it still has plenty of room to grow, as the release version’s depth of gameplay isn’t quite on par with its breadth of content. For a buck it’s well worth checking out if you’re in the market for a new physics game and could go for something that really puts the “practice” in target practice.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]