I’m still working on my temptation to attach the word “physics” to whatever genre I’m writing about at the moment, but I think it’s fair to label Mojo Bones’ iOS debut a side-scrolling physics platformer — a downright fun and superbly polished one at that! If you’re curious about how these stretchy-tongued canine acrobats became Tongue Tied (Out Now, $1.99) you’ll want to check out the developer’s teaser trailer because there isn’t a whole lot of background waiting for the player in-game. Nor is it clear how Mick and Ralph got from that point to running around collecting bone tokens in rather hazardous environments. Oh well, I’d much rather have a great game than a thorough explanation for such a zany premise, and Tongue Tied falls on the right side of that equation.
Understanding Tongue Tied’s appeal requires an overview of its interface, because Mojo Bones has accomplished something significant in creating one of the most interesting movesets I’ve seen that uses only gesture controls. When the player grabs and drags Mick or Ralph the other dog acts as an anchor, allowing for an intuitive stretch-and-fling action. Tapping one dog or the other without holding dis-attaches him from the current platform, and while he’s hanging by his tongue the player can swipe to swing him around the other dog in a wide arc. Really cool stunts involve dis-attaching one dog while the other is airborne. The various tricks Mick and Ralph can pull off are listed in the main menu for the player’s review, and they’re explained in-game as they become useful.
I found the advanced moves surprisingly easy to get a handle on with a little practice, so most players will have Mick and Ralph flying around like bolas in no time. For a while the player will be doing this just because he or she can, but it eventually dawned on me that all the little tokens I was collecting, and the crates and bags I was bashing using these moves, weren’t required to progress in the game. Mere survival leads from one level to the next here, in contrast to the performance-locked level sets that have become the norm on iOS.
But fear not — Mojo Bones has something unique in store to incentivize the player. While Game Center achievements are predictably on tap, players will take more interest in the “Doghouse,” which contains little rewards for completing challenges. Don’t expect bonus levels or Hyper Dog Mode or anything like that here; the rewards are strictly pieces of bonus media. While that may sound disappointing on paper, I will say that some interesting surprises await the player who works for them. The “what could possibly be next?” factor kept me interested in hitting that perfect score or pulling off the minimum number of tricks needed to satisfy the next challenge.
The Doghouse is a far riskier approach to rewarding player performance than the upgrade systems I’ve come to adore in other iOS games, and Mojo Bones is probably one of the few developers that can pull this sort of thing off well owing to their unique brand of humor. I must admit I kept wishing I could see all the challenge requirements at once rather than work through them sequentially — it’s not always clear whether the player could be doing something at this moment that satisfies the requirement of a challenge to come later. In any case, mere progression through the game is rewarding in itself because level designs get satisfyingly dicey. Bottomless pits are only the start: just about every conceivable threat from the platforming genre makes an appearance, but now the player has to approach them in novel ways for lack of a jump button!
Tongue Tied’s touch interface is just as responsive and accurate as a game of this type needs to be — which is to say, pretty doggone responsive and accurate! The only thing I wrestled with was my own habit of tapping the wrong dog once the threats began coming in hot and heavy enough to get me flustered. Tongue Tied is so unique that I can’t imagine any category of player coming in with a distinct advantage, but I will say the challenge on offer is enough to satisfy even veteran action fans. If you’re a sucker for games with that “just one more try” magic, you can rest assured Tongue Tied has got that in spades. One thing the developer can improve in updates is camera tracking on the dogs. If the player uses aerial tricks liberally, Mick and Ralph have a tendency to get ahead of screen center and leave the player less reaction time for the next crumbling bridge, dynamite stick, or bed of hot coals.
Tongue Tied admirably varies its environments over its 50-level span, and its pastel cuteness looks beautifully crisp on a Retina display. On the aesthetic downside, the game cycles through only three level tunes. At least they’re catchy! Tongue Tied’s 50 levels promise about five hours for a straight playthrough, and several more for true achievement hounds.
iFanzine Verdict: Tongue Tied is the most innovative take on the side-scrolling runner we’ve seen yet! Even if you’re not a genre fan or have just grown plain tired of level based runners, this one deserves your attention for its out-of-this-world acrobatics, perfectly polished gesture controls, and healthy challenge.