The Running of the Bull

(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)

Sometimes you just can’t get a good night’s rest. Whether it was a violent TV show, a really bad glass of milk, or a late night report on Spain’s annual run-for-your-life fest that set off the mind of this poor kid before he fell asleep, he’s now locked in a nightmare where he’s eternally chased down by a giant demonic bull. This dream from Hell didn’t begin with any lullaby, and he’ll be lucky if it doesn’t end with his own Requiem (Out Now, On Sale for $0.99).

A running game where the player’s job is to keep a healthy distance between the protagonist and a giant baddie is nothing new on iOS; what is new is the way in which Tribase Studios presents this scenario from a first person perspective. The player catches sight of the bull in stylishly drawn cutscenes, but during gameplay his or her focus remains firmly ahead, on the obstacle course the dreamer has to rush through lest he get trampled. Survival requires that the dreamer hop over and duck beneath objects that litter the way while maintaining as much speed as possible. Should the player make mistakes, a “Sprint” button can be called on for temporary boosts to compensate. While a progress bar tells the player roughly how far behind the bull is at all times, the sound of pounding hooves and an ominous spattering of blood over the UI drive home the point if the bull’s getting a little too close for comfort.

Requiem‘s is a formula that guarantees a tense challenge, especially thanks to level designs that throw plenty of surprises at the player; suffice it to say that Tribase Studios makes excellent use of the dream premise here. Offering fourteen pre-defined levels as opposed to an endless obstacle course was also a wise design decision. There’s something about well defined progress that lends Requiem that magic “oh, but I was almost there!” addictiveness. Bonus levels are accessed by collecting pegasus-shaped tokens on challenge paths that occasionally branch off from the main obstacle course. These laid-back, tilt-controlled experiences feel entirely different from the rest of the game, making them worth the extra effort.

In other ways, Requiem treads on extremely thin ice. A few console First Person Shooters have pulled off platforming well, but the player could usually take his or her time before making critical leaps in those. Being sandwiched between a bull from Hell and a bottomless pit is an entirely different experience, and requires an utterly perfect interface. Unfortunately the touch block used to orient the dreamer feels incredibly wonky, and it’s difficult to fathom why the traditional virtual joystick wasn’t employed here to begin with. Whereas a virtual joystick’s roving control point gives the player some idea how to reverse unintended movement, the touch block’s static image provides no such feedback.

Requiem controls well enough while the dreamer is running through wide streets that leave plenty of room for slight unintentional drift. When the dreamer’s environments collapse into more exacting paths, however, trying to keep it on the straight and narrow can add to Requiem‘s challenge in a way the developers certainly did not intend. Until Tribase gives the movement control a good refurbishing in updates, the fifth level’s topsy turvy cart runs will especially become a thorn in the player’s side. As it stands, this level will be nigh unbeatable on Advanced mode, which requires far more careful speed budgeting than the game’s normal difficulty mode.

Those who remain undaunted by Requiem‘s significant interface flaw will lend the game’s aesthetic presentation near-unanimous praise, and rightfully so! Absent here is the frame rate choppiness we’ve so often witnessed when developers release their first 3D projects on iOS — judging from my experience on an iPod Touch 4 at least. Requiem‘s use of sound combines with its first person perspective to lend the experience a claustrophobic intensity that is definitely a major part of its appeal compared to side-scrolling runners. Some epic tunes round out the feel of being chased by a rather large beast.

Requiem‘s ten levels may not seem like a lot given the breadth-of-content inflation at lower price ranges on iOS recently, but you can count on it for a good three to four hours’ worth of fearful running. This is due to the many, many retries an average player will go through, mastering each level one stretch at a time.

iFanzine Verdict: Requiem badly needs some user interface adjustment, but for now it rides well enough on its sheer novelty and the promise of an even smoother experience once updates kick in. Those who have sworn off ever touching another running game on iOS might just have a reason to revisit the genre!

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

Addendum: Interface improved