Gone are the days when the biggest and often best games on the market were created by a few guys in their spare time; getting together on weekends and working late evenings just because it was fun. These days you stand little to no chance of competing with the ‘Triple-A’ companies unless you have a 30+ strong team behind you. But that’s not to say that the ‘bedroom businesses’ no longer exist, and ‘David’ is a fine example of the quality games that are being developed even now, by companies as small as one man who – in this case – clearly put their heart and soul into a project.
I can only guess that the title ‘David’ refers to the famous story of David and Goliath, because essentially that’s what this game is; the small guy versus the big guy, only the little guy is a square and the giant is a large collection of triangles. David takes many of the traditional Arcade-Platformer mechanics and flips them on their head to allow the player to move about in a less restricting fashion. Double jumps are cool – there’s no denying it – but what about triple jumps or even jumping as many times as you’d like allowing you to fly about using platforms only as cover and a place to catch your metaphorical breath back? It becomes less about the precise jumps and more about the weaving and dodging; just you versus Goliath in a maze of shields.
The game’s creator – Andrew Armstrong – compares David to ‘Shadow of the Colossus’, and I can see what he means. There are no little enemies, only bosses which each have their own unique movement, environment, strategy and theme, and every single defeat brings you closer to unlocking the final boss. The central hub area consists of room full of doors, each with their own title such as ‘Anger’, ‘Flee’, ‘Lies’ and – my personal favourite – ‘Brood’, which all give you a slight clue as to what to expect. Not that that will help you in the slightest.
David is difficult, very difficult, but never frustrating. Because each boss fight starts with you and ‘it’ in close proximity, you will most likely die very quickly. But with the tap of a button, the battle starts a fresh quicker than you can say ‘I’m going to leave this boss and come back to it later’. It’s something so simple but so fundamentally important to almost any mobile game; getting the player into the game as quick as possible. There aren’t many games were you can play for 60 seconds and feel like you’ve had a good crack at a boss, and maybe even defeated it. Knowing that the game is in your pocket with a boss waiting for you, and knowing that in 1 minutes time it’ll be you or ‘him’ left standing is a great feeling.
The game is largely based around white, hard edged shapes on a complementary blue background. Despite most enemies and their projectiles being white – just like David – you’re never lost or confused about where you are on screen. The camera seems to follow you around each area so that you’re always roughly in the centre of the screen. The fact that David is a hollow square also makes him stand out amongst the solid blocks that make up the world and your enemies. All of the blocks and lines make David feel like a pixelated, retro game even though it isn’t which is a vibe the audio also helps create with its simple yet catchy themes and sound effects.
Bosses are a collection of smaller shapes built in such a way that gives you a silhouette of a rhino, space ship or huge head, for a few examples. As you shoot at them, the pieces you hit directly will be destroyed and their extensions will be scattered, soon before re-attaching themselves to the rest of the group. Think of the bosses as Lego characters who throw their weight around and – in some cases – throw their limbs at you. If you touch any of their pieces, you lose some life or die, and if you manage to survive long enough to destroy all of their blocks, you win.
What makes the bosses so difficult is how their movements are so unpredictable. The majority of their ‘attacks’ are simply the physics engine doing its job. One of the bosses hides in water, under three floating platforms. If you move around, jumping from platform to platform you will aggravate the monster into jumping out of the water where you will be able to attack it, but must also get out of the way quickly before it lands on you. Things get really tricky when the enemy lands on the corner of a platform and splits into little pieces that each head in their own direction and when playing on ‘Very’, the harder of the two difficulties, a single hit will kill you outright.
David is a very short game, but with a lot of replayability. The boss battles on the easier difficulty can all be completed in around an hour but the harder mode will take quite a few. What I spent most of my time playing is the arena mode, where enemies keep spawning. Surviving as long as possible will earn you a high score and each enemy you kill will drop a point, which when collected can be spent on more health, a larger shield or improved attack power. However, the points you have to spend are based on your top high score, not the total points accumulated. For example, if you have 50 points before a game and get another 20 during the game then you will still only have 50 to spend, but if you get a new high score of 70, then you would have that many for then onward.
The arena mode is a game of its own in the sense that many iOS games involve repetitive gameplay where the only goal is to beat your previous score. I find myself contemplating which mode to play each time I load up the game, knowing that I will have just as much fun on either. David feels very unique in both gameplay and art style, so much so that I recommend it to anyone who seems even remotely interested. It is now one of my favourite games on iOS and I look forward to seeing what Armstrong comes up with next.