Willow the Whale has been sighted by a ravenous creature curiously known as Baron von Barry, and the Baron happens to have a sweet tooth for marine mammals. To escape the Baron’s multi-armed clutches Willow swoops right into the sky, where he’ll remain in airborne safety so long as he keeps gulping down a string of floating rainbow bubbles that form the Whale Trail (Out Now, $0.99). Hey, it’s iOS — don’t ask why!
Whale Trail is the latest infinite side-scroller with one-touch controls. Holding at the screen makes Willow float up – which draws from an energy meter – and he’ll drift down otherwise. The trick is to shape Willow’s path so it matches the sometimes arcing, sometimes looping, curves of his magical food supply. If Willow runs out of energy he’ll drop right into the gullet of his pursuer, and Game Center will offer the usual leaderboard tally based on distance traveled, number of bubbles consumed, and other factors.
Whale Trail begins with a slick tutorial, and pop-up descriptions introduce other objects as the player encounters them. Continued survival naturally ups the ante, the Whale Trail thinning out and branching around angry thunder clouds that’ll zap Willow and reduce his energy meter if the player lets him get too close for comfort. Aiding long term survival are speed boosts that ease climbing and stars that put Willow into a cloud-busting, rainbow-gulping Frenzy Mode.
There’s little question that simple infinite side-scrollers have worn out their welcome for many iGamers by now, myself included. However, titles in this genre can still stand out if they have incredible polish, and that’s precisely what Whale Trail brings to the table. The in-game physics feel spot on. Willow’s soaring and diving become more severe the longer the player holds (or doesn’t hold!) at the screen, which allows for loop de loops and flat plummets as necessary to follow the Trail. Dynamic environment changes keep the player’s interest in a way that brings to mind Boost 2.
Whale Trail’s presentation oozes cotton candy charm. The in-game theme – composed by Gruff Rhys, with accompanying music video here – is light and airy enough in instrumental form that it doesn’t grate on the player’s nerves at all regardless of how long Willow survives. I will say that the “friends” who occasionally swoop in and barf out bubbles to give Willow a leg up can be downright disturbing, so take care if you intend on passing this one to your two-year-old. You’ll probably have a hard time putting the game down yourself in the first place.
iFanzine Verdict: A standout among infinite side-scrollers for its interesting physics and overall level of polish. Whale Trail won’t convince you back into the genre if you’ve written it off for good, but if the occasional infinite game has become your guilty pleasure, Whale Trail is an excellent title to drop a buck on.