July 3rd, 2012 | By Joe Grogan
Before we get this review rolling, I have a confession to make: I don’t know a thing about soccer. I don’t know if we’re in the middle of the soccer season or more toward the end, or if a soccer season is even a thing. I couldn’t tell you whether “arsenal” is the name of a team or slang for a stadium and acronyms like CONCACAF and CONMEBOL only serve to confuse me more. To me, soccer is just big, grassy hockey with men whose bones apparently shatter every time they trip on their own shoelaces. Still, none of this is going to convince me that I am anything other than the site’s resident fútbol expert, so let’s take a look at DND Arts’ UP 2012.
UP 2012, which has nothing to do with the Disney movie (I was disappointed too), stands for Ukraine Poland 2012 and is a celebration of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. The game touts a “simple slide-and-fly mechanic”, which, if you’ve been in the iFamily since early 2011, you understand to mean “Hey, we threw a fresh coat of paint on Tiny Wings, but let’s not say it so directly.” This fresh coat has you playing as a soccer ball, touring the stadiums in which tournament games were held, rolling over the hills to reach your destination. As an imitator it does some things right and, as is par for the course, quite a few more wrong.
If you aren’t familiar with this type of game, it’s all about momentum and timing. You start off by rolling a ball down a hill, holding the screen to increase the pull of gravity. As the ball starts to go uphill again, let go of the screen to let momentum carry it onward. Soon enough you’ll be flying high, trying to keep from miscalculating by the half second it can take to slam into the wrong side of a hill. It’s a simple, challenging concept which is addictive even in this knockoff form.
The most positive aspect of the game is the actual control on the ball, which is just as smooth as, if not more so than, the control of the bird in Tiny Wings. Not once in my time with the UP 2012 did I encounter a hiccup or spot of lag that caused me to misjudge my trajectory and crash into a cliff. That isn’t to say that I didn’t mess up, because I totally did, all the time. It was just refreshing to know that every time I lost, it was my fault, not that of the game.
But coming off that positive, the above sentence carries with it an issue: you can lose at UP 2012. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those new age I-need-a-checkpoint-every-thirty-seconds gamers, but winning and losing just doesn’t fit with the slide-and-fly style. This type of game thrives when the focus is how far you can make it, not whether you can make it to a certain point. Tiny Wings did it best with its island system, having players make it past as many hilly islands as possible before the sun set. In UP 2012, though, the objective is to get to the end of each of the eight levels, marked by each of the eight stadiums which hosted the tournament this year. None of the levels are particularly difficult, which is annoying in that as soon as you feel like you’re getting into a groove with your jumps, the level is over. In similar titles, while a round can end, it doesn’t have to. If you’re good enough, you can play forever. In UP 2012, you have 90 seconds, no matter how good you are.
Speaking of the game’s levels, another issue is the apparent laziness of the artists. Every stage is supposed to represent one of the tournament’s host cities. Now I’m no geographer, but I have a hard time believing that Wroclaw and Gdansk look like carbon copies of each other. The same goes for Donetsk, Kharkiv, and well, every other city in the game. You see, there are two backdrops for the various stages. One is for the Polish cities and the other for the Ukrainian ones. This is craftsmanship that would be unacceptable during the days of the SNES, let alone the 21st century.
Adding to DND Arts’ low standards is the game’s utter lack of a soundtrack. That’s not to say that there’s no music, it’s just that the music is all yours. The game just shuffles whatever music is on the device and runs with it. If you’ve got some good techno music on your iPod, maybe you won’t mind so much, otherwise this could very well kill what’s left of the experience. Personally, though, I find it rather difficult to focus on an intense, rhythmic game while I’m listening to Jimmy Buffett’s Dukes on Sunday. It isn’t a bad thing to be able to choose your own music while you play a game, but when you are forced to use your own library because the developer was too lazy to head over to the public domain and pick out a song for their game’s soundtrack, it’s a different story.
Finally is UP 2012’s insistence on selling you things. To be fair, a lot of advertisements are to be expected in any free game. What’s inconvenient is the finicky nature of the ads. Every time the game is booted or the main menu is opened, a full screen ad pops up, and every so often it decides that it won’t close when you tell it to. Instead, it takes you to the product page anyway because darn it, you should be grateful you got a free game at all. That’s not just nuisance, it’s a unacceptable. If there’s one thing you don’t want your video game to do, it’s annoy people.
In a nutshell, the only reason you should get UP 2012 is if you’re new to the slide-and-fly experience and want to try it out before making the investment on a game like Tiny Wings. UP 2012 isn’t a very good game, which is shame, because it’s only a few tweaks from being good enough that I’d pay for it. If DND Arts just drew up some new backgrounds, found a nice song to throw in and added an endless mode, it’d be a great complement to the 2012 UEFA Championship. As it stands, however, that wasted potential is just painful to play.