Pocket Climber review: simple, broken, but still somehow fun
C. Custer | On October 16, 2013 at 9:00 am
You may already be familiar with Pocket Climber, a free iOS and Android game from Beijing’s PunchBox Studios that came out around a year ago. It did well across the globe at the time, but over the past few days it has been having something of a resurgence in some smaller Asian countries, grabbing the number one spot on App Annie’s gaming charts for Nepal and Tajikistan and ranking in the top ten in Uzbekistan, Micronesia, and Palau, among other Asian nations. What’s causing this resurgence in smaller markets a year after the game’s initial release? I have no idea, but given that it’s happening, now seems as good a time as any to review the game and tell you whether it’s worth your time.
Gameplay: simple, but broken
Pocket Climber is an incredibly simple game. As your character swiftly scales the side of a building, you swipe left and right to dodge obstacles or up to jump over them. Along the way, you collect coins. When you die, you can use those coins to continue from where you left off, and if you don’t have enough, you can buy some more using real money. It’s very much a game you can pay to win — with enough money you can just continue indefinitely — but you collect enough coins in the game that spending real money is definitely optional, which is nice. (The game also includes a store where you can buy things like a King Kong character skin and a jetpack).
Despite being very simple, the game is fun, although its randomly-generated obstacles can occasionally put you into a position from which it’s impossible to escape. There are a few obstacles that come from above and cannot be jumped, so when these line up perfectly with an obstacle on the side so that you can’t jump horizontally, you’ve got no choice but to die or to cheat.
Cheating is very much an option thanks to a flaw in the game’s pause system. Any time you pause the game, you gain a second or two of temporary invulnerability when you resume the game. This allows you to move through any obstacle simply by pausing and un-pausing right before it hits you. It’s not completely game-breaking (hitting the pause button fast enough for this to work requires some skill), but it definitely allows you to cheat your way out of deadly situations that ought to end the game, and means that any competition you have against friends to see who can get the highest is pretty pointless.
Graphics and sound: meh
There’s really not much you can say about the graphics in Pocket Climber. They’re passable, and you can tell what’s happening in the game. They’re not impressive or memorable in any way, though, and for such a simple game you’d think time could have been spent polishing them up a bit.
The sound is memorable, and that’s because it’s pretty bad. The sound effects themselves are fine — there’s a nice whoosh sound whenever you jump — but the music itself is a bizarre mix of crunching metal guitars and space-age synths that sounds like it belongs in the soundtrack to a snowboarding game from the late 1990s. What’s worse is that it at least on my phone, it also seemed to skip a lot, especially while navigating the menus, so listening to it wasn’t even a smooth experience. Luckily, you have the option of turning the music all the way down; I suggest that you take it.
Content: no theme to speak of
Pocket Climber is about as streamlined as a game can come, and it makes no attempt to explain who you are, why you’re climbing the wall, or why everyone in the building seems to be intent on throwing things at you as you vault past their windows. In fact, most of the obstacles make no sense — why are there dozens of construction elevators and corrugated metal window covers slamming up and down hundreds of feet up the size of a building? — and even visually, there’s no theme to be found here. The climber himself is drawn in an anime style, but the building’s grungy walls are clearly meant to look quite realistic and aren’t at all cartoony. I’m not sure what PunchBox was really going for here.
Despite all of that negative stuff I just said, Pocket Climber is a fun short-term time-waster. If you take it seriously, it’ll frustrate the hell out of you, but as a way to pass the time on a subway ride or something, you could do a lot worse.