Who knows how the nameless, faceless pilot of a curious squid-like rocket ship ended up on a hostile alien world with no weapons; but like the player, that person is liable to find the sights and sounds in this Pod Odyssey (Out Now, $0.99) well worth the dangerous detour! Once playable only on the iPad, Pod Odyssey is now a darn tootin’ good addition to your Action/Adventure library if you’re an iPhone or iPod Touch owner.

It’s easy to mistake Coffee Pot Labs’ debut for yet another rendition of the Lunar Lander formula, but two things distinguish Pod Odyssey from most of its genre competition. First, there’s no landing pad and no fuel gauge. The goal here – more often than not, at any rate – is to explore cavernous mazes in search of energy crystals that power your rocket ship from one leg of the journey to the next. Secondly, this rocket ship is so rough-and-tumble that it actually gets a life bar! If you’re worried the game will be too easy on account of that, rest assured that all the alien weaponry lining these space caves can shave the ship’s integrity down very quickly.

Once the player has scavenged the required energy crystals or completed some other goal assigned at a level’s outset, he or she can move to the next or hang around and complete a challenge goal. A two-star rating system keeps track of the player’s spaceship steering prowess, but lacking Game Center leaderboards or performance-dependent content, there’s little incentive for the player to stick with a given level. The fun lies strictly in moving on and seeing what’s around the next corner; it might be a new ability like a damage-reducing shield or an EMP blast that slows down enemy projectiles, or some new alien threat that tests the player’s maneuvering skills. The best levels make the player put on his or her thinking cap: since the spaceship lacks weapons, all the homing projectiles aimed at the ship need to be led around until they hit objects that must be destroyed to fulfill the mission requirement.

Pod Odyssey’s levels grow quite expansive! It’s too bad there’s no map system to help you avoid the umpteenth trip through a passage where everything has already been collected, so you’d better bring your line-of-sight navigation skills to this one. The game shines its brightest in the first third of the adventure, where the ship’s new abilities are stirred in; after the shield and EMP blast are collected Pod Odyssey relies on ever more challenging enemy formations and traps to keep the player’s attention. It’s clear, then, that this formula has some avenues for growth in sequels; a great sci-fi story and a garage to outfit my ship with scavenged alien technology, and I, for one, would be in some kind of heaven even at a higher price range.

Coffee Pot Labs no doubt rose to their studio name while burning the midnight oil designing all of Pod Odyssey’s control schemes! There are a total of four and each has lots of calibration options, so it’s difficult to imagine a player not being satisfied with at least one of these. In addition to the expected tilt and right/left thruster virtual buttons, the player can choose a directional touchpad or some neat right-and left-hand sliders. Each control scheme seems to have its own gameplay advantage: the sliders allow the player precise control over how much thrust gets applied in the desired direction, while the touchpad is great for dropping at an angle. Even so, I didn’t feel I was at any disadvantage for sticking with the traditional two-button scheme often used in Lunar Lander-style games, and this is a major testament to the developer’s UI design skills! I worried that the game’s physics felt a little too loose during the live UI calibration screen, but in the game itself everything is spot on in this regard.

There’s no denying that Pod Odyssey’s secret weapon is its aesthetic presentation. It sounds strange to say this since everything’s made of metal or rock here, but the game’s presentation has an incredibly organic feel over all. The wispy hand-painted backdrops and spacey but head-bobbingly good soundtrack lend Pod Odyssey a kind of psychedelic feel that draws the player in way more than the sum of the game’s parts would otherwise. Weighing in at 27 levels, Pod Odyssey should last three to four hours on average.

iFanzine Verdict: Pod Odyssey isn’t particularly deep and its best content is front-loaded into the first half, but masterfully executed controls and a different approach to the Lunar Lander genre – and yes, an excellent painterly atmosphere – make it stand out among adventure games. Considering it’s going for $0.99 after the universal update, this is a great title to pick up if you’re an Action/Adventure fan with an appreciation for the Lunar Lander genre.