This is not an advertisement for a new Tron game.
There’s something to say about a game’s addictive qualities when I put off writing a review in favor of slogging through one more level, despite seeing all I’ve needed to see. Polara marks another addition to the App Store’s list of endless runners founded on precision platforming. Last month’s Rayman Jungle Run proved there was still a market for these polished experiences, but outside of the shared concept, Polara embraces a level of challenge that rivals Ikaruga.
In the year 2140, the government has designed automated defense grids to protect the richer upper class from the rebellious lower class. As such, Agent Lara must test a prototype suit that prevents the wearer from being “cleansed” by these polarized lasers. But unexpected contact with a member of the Civil Uprise causes her to abandon the wealthy’s needs and meet this mystery man. Now branded as a terrorist, Lara must navigate elaborate neon tripwires en route to the rogue teasing knowledge of her father's death.
I know the government's labeled the lower class as insurgents, but talk about overkill.
The government won't let their former agent rob them of experimental tech so easily. Polara adopts a critically abused mantra: easy to learn, hard to master. Players tap the left side of the screen to swap between the suit’s red and blue hues, and tap (or hold) the right side to vary the height of Lara’s leaps. When her armor turns red, Lara slips through red lasers unharmed, but when two opposite colors meet, disintegration results. A bounty of creative laser contraptions, like spinning death wheels, account for the more obligatory perils, while less volatile traps include inverse gravity fields, launch pads, and grind rails that accelerate or inhibit Lara's speed.
Polara may be difficult, but the levels acclimate newcomers to each form of termination and its devious design slowly. Players might have to swap suit hues every five seconds at first, or perish just to test their timing, yet the anti-personnel lasers frequently work in tandem, forcing gamers to swap from red to blue and back to red at a second’s notice. Your brain’s the real enemy here. Much as you cannot draw a perfect circle and square simultaneously, you must tax your mind not to tap both sides of the screen in concert during several intense sequences. Even more impressive, the game’s 50 stages still inject new ways to vaporize Lara during the final boss.
At least the controls don't invert during these sequences.
Your skills quickly become the ticket to success, and that next checkpoint could be the lottery that frees Lara from endless fragmentation. Thankfully, death never punishes you permanently. Like Trials Evolution, Lara returns to the point of your previous failure instantly. Rather, the game tests you and pushes you to react faster in accordance with the advanced security measures. I would tally up my final death count after conquering all 50 stages, except level 48 accounted for 249 faults ... alone. I don’t know if I should be proud that the laser placements kept me guessing, or ashamed of my sloth-like athleticism.
More so than any checkpoint restart, however, I grew tired of the backgrounds, the techno rhythms that repeat ad nauseum, and the identical brown catwalks that Lara leaps, slides, and sprints across until she reaches refuge. Although she does run parallel to the city’s silhouetted skyline, through a rusted industrial district, or along a deserted airport landing strip, these locales exist as placeholders until the next scene change every ten levels. The cutscenes themselves follow a strict graph of the average sci-fi plot, but each dystopian image slideshow does an acceptable job characterizing Lara and her rebel contact.
Players must reflect colored nodes at bosses to damage them.
That does not mean the fun ends just because the credits roll. Replay value can still be found upon revisiting stages. New objectives order players to collect letters spelling “POLARA” or gather special tokens located within most inopportune gaps. If you struggled before, I pray the developers have mercy on your sanity. Together these collectibles demand you angle your jumps differently or wait until the last moment to make a harrowing pass through the next checkpoint. When that's not enough, six endless stages sap you of your remaining free will.
Polara's unforgiving gameplay adheres to another oft-spoken incantation: one more level. The early stages are the proverbial definition of pick up and play, even if players find the later levels more than a match for their bathroom routines, bus rides, or evening stress reliefs. People that want to witness the story’s conclusion without the reflexes to match need not worry about a grand reveal that blows the sci-fi genre off its hinges. Given the ending, I am certain we’ll see more of Lara, and for a mere $0.99, you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this endless runner.
Developer: Hope This Works Games
Release Date: October 11, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: iPad (Reviewed), iPhone