Review: Tobe & Friends: Hookshot Escape

When it comes to iOS titles, there’s something to be said about simple, addictive premises. Something you spend minutes learning how to do and then hours perfecting is mystifying. Tobe & Friends Hookshot Escape is great at offering just that. It’s a quickfire high-score game that reaches out and puts the player in a vice grip, all the while shouting “Play me! Keep playing!”

Secret Base has created an endless vertical runner/platformer that hits all the mobile game sweet spots. It only asks one thing of you: to climb to your heart’s content using a combination of jumps and Tobe’s versatile hookshot, hence the game’s title. Tobe (and a colorful cast of an additional three characters) must jump and climb from ledge to ledge as the worlds below them continue to crumble. Onwards and upwards they push, happening upon the occasional treasure but usually climbing for their lives. That’s where you come in.

Using the onscreen controls you’ll be jumping from ledge to ledge, grabbing on to any solid ground to pull yourself up. It’s as simple as tapping once to jump, and tapping again to launch your hookshot. You may happen upon a treasure chest with unlockables (there are plenty to be found) or you might simply want to revel in the game’s charmingly retro look. It’s adorable, and we wouldn’t blame you. But the longer you play, the higher the difficulty ramps up. And the greater the difficulty, the less margin you have for error. Fail to pull yourself up and let the screen catch you at the bottom, and it’s game over.

Unfortunately, that happens a bit too often when it comes to the game’s cramped controls. The buttons are situated far too closely to each other, making it exceedingly simple to hit a button you didn’t mean to in a moment of crisis. Playing on an iPad is certainly not optimal, even when the screen is stretched to fit. At first this is no real issue, only causing trouble when you accidentally tap right instead of left or vice versa. It can be frustrating enough to push you to quit, and it’s a real shame when the game itself is such a delight and you’ve found your groove. Not to mention that tapping wildly and adjusting your position onscreen is great for aggravating wrist conditions or giving you a nasty cramp, so it’s best to play in small bursts.

That’s understandably hard to do in a game that so sneakily keeps you coming back for more, if not to best your highest score then to unlock every single item you possibly can– or to explore each character’s strengths and weaknesses. A tight combo system that awards stringing several strategic actions together is cause for plenty of retries, and a plucky, cheery soundtrack is the perfect companion to your dangerous little adventure. Additional equipment (part of the unlockables previously mentioned) go a long way to aid less-skilled players in rising to the top, and those who live for a challenge can just as easily go without as a means of making their own games more difficult.

Tobe & Friends Hookshot Escape is a game that knows its audience and their desires. It plays to them rather well, marrying fast-paced puzzling gameplay with old-school sensibilities that wouldn’t have been out of place in the dimly lit arcade halls of the past. It’s unfortunate that it suffers from control issues– otherwise it would certainly be a must-play for those who enjoy a quick burst of maddening fun on their mobile devices. Still, it’s an adorable and intriguing high-score title that’s hard to put down, so go ahead and join Tobe and the gang on their journey to “the top.”

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