In a dystopian future a violent battle between the haves and the have-nots has broken out, with the upper tiers looking to simply wipe out what they see as the poor undeserving trash below them. Lara is a special agent working for the upper class to test a new defense system with the help of a special polarity switching suit they have just developed, that is until she receives disturbing information about her father’s demise from the leader of the resistance. Now on the run from those she used to work for, Lara will have to jump and polarity switch her way through 50 unique levels of intense action that mixes endless runner esque gameplay with the polarity switching style of Ikaruga.
Polara (out now, $1.99) is the latest iOS game from developer Hope This Works Games, the same people who previously brought you the neon infused puzzle title Kunundrum. Polara takes to heart the idea that a game doesn’t need to be convoluted in order to be fiendishly challenging, and only ever presents the player with two separate actions: jumping and shifting their suit polarity. Tapping the right side of the screen will see Lara lunge through the air, with the jump length being affected by the duration of the press, while tapping the left side of the screen will cause the heroine’s Ikaruga inspired suit to shift its polarity.
It is through this polarity changing mechanic, rather than by forcing the player to delicately time out pixel perfect jumps to tiny platforms, where the true heart of 99% of Polara’s challenges lie. Whenever Lara collides with an attack that matches her suit’s present color – which can be either red or blue – the blast will either bounce off or be harmlessly absorbed, where as all attacks of the opposite hue will cause instant death. Lara’s suit – however – is not merely limited to enabling her to escape projectile attacks, and will furthermore allow her to interact with any contraptions that share her current polarity.
These various devices that Lara’s suit can activate help ensure that Polara is never simply a matter of bullet dodging/absorption, and include contraptions such as: trampolines, conveyor belts, anti gravity fields, conditional platforms, etc. However, the game is by no means merely as simple as only asking the player to be sure that Lara’s suit gets set to the same polarity as every single contraption that she runs by in her quest to uncover the truth. You will often be faced with scenarios where the contraptions that Lara needs to survive are the exact opposite hue of all the energy blasts in the area, or even find circumstances where a contraption you don’t want to use just so happens to be the very same polarity as the oncoming attacks you need to avoid.
As you might have already suspected from everything I’ve written so far, Polara is a game where death – at least once you get past the early levels – is a very easy thing to repeatedly run headlong into. Thankfully during story mode the game gives you not only an unlimited supply of lives, but also generously distributed checkpoints that will regularly run by at a constant and steady rate. This means that even though the problems you will encounter during the non-randomized story mode will often throw your mind for a mental loop, you will be given however many chances you need to figure out what the developers are asking you to do.
However – despite the fact that Polara is extremely lenient with players when they are horribly stuck – those who become frustrated with great ease might want to just avoid this game, as being stuck will become a very common occurrence before all 50 levels have been completed. That is not to say that there is no satisfaction to be found within the gameplay of Polara, as it is actually very rewarding whenever you finally manage to properly time out the shifting and jumping of a segment that had formerly vexed you heavily (especially if you perform a no death run of the entire level). Instead, what I am trying to convey here is that those not craving an “old school backhand to the face” style challenge may quickly lose all interest with Polara once the game takes off its kid gloves.
That said, Polara does has people on the completely opposite side of the gaming spectrum quite well covered and once a level has been completed it can then be replayed with additional objectives that greatly increase the mind bending challenge factor. These bonus goals include challenging players to pick up the letters to the game’s name in each stage, with letters naturally only being able to be picked up if Lara is the correct polarity when she touches them (which is generally the exact polarity that you wouldn’t sanely want to be in that area). The other bonus objective asks the player to pick up a special item – that doesn’t care what your polarity is – that is usually placed at the bottom of a pit that is normally impossible to not successfully jump over, challenging the player to figure out how to complete an unnatural leap that would otherwise be suicidal.
Players that successfully complete these much harder optional objectives will be rewarded by unlocking special challenge modes that far more greatly resemble actual traditional endless runner games. These extra gameplay modes will challenge the player to go up against randomized obstacles in order to see how far their can run, or in some cases how many coins they can pick up, during the course of a single life. To the delight of the especially competitive iOS gamers out there, there furthermore exist separate online leader boards for each of Polara’s unlockable special challenge modes.
iFanzine Verdict: Polara is a unique – and easy to control – blend of endless runner style gameplay mixed with the polarity shifting concept that made Ikaruga so famous, providing a new experience for iOS owners. The game – completely devoid of IAPs – is rather generous by giving player infinite lives and frequent checkpoints, which will be needed since the game gets to be rather difficult very quickly (perhaps a little too difficult for the more easily frustrated out there). For those who are looking for even more difficulty – and replay value – there are additional optional objectives on all 50 of the game’s story mode missions when they are replayed, as well as a bevy of unlockable challenge modes that come complete with online leaderboards.