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Namaste Space Buffalo iOS Review

If you’ve been after a skill-based smartphone game with a phoned-in vaporwave aesthetic and a healthy serving of new age mumbo-jumbo, Namaste Space Buffalo is the game you’ve been waiting for. And, to my surprise, that’s exactly what I was waiting for.

In fact, I’ve rarely been more surprised by a smartphone game. When I saw the trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond a self-consciously wacky sense of humour. And while it does have that, there’s thankfully rather more on offer.

But first: that aesthetic. The game teems with chill pixelated deities, ironic fast food references and twinkling lo-fi music that calls to mind the new age tapes of James Ferraro. Depending on your tolerance for the weirder reaches of internet culture, you’re likely to find it perplexing, if not completely off-putting.

To top things off, the game’s screens and menus are littered with jauntily insincere motivational slogans, by turns encouraging you to either clear your mind of all delusion and reach true enlightenment, or just, like, munch another sick buritto, bruh.

The religious themes come thick and fast...

The religious themes come thick and fast…

Those were the things that struck me before I’d even played the game – and they had me completely wrong-footed.

I thought I was in for a shallow, superficial toy to fiddle with for a few minutes before sending off to that great App Store in the sky. But I was wrong: Namaste Space Buffalo is actually a challenging, compulsive and – dare I say it – even meditative game. 

At the start of each level, the titular space buffalo (or spuffalo) sits on the left-hand side of the screen, awaiting your input. On the other side lies a brilliant blue portal representing enlightenment, because why not. Your objective is to guide the shaggy seeker on his path from left to right, hopefully catching a falling star along the way. 

But as every spiritual aspirant knows, the path to enlightenment must be walked alone. And so, you don’t have any direct control over the spuffalo: you just tap him once, and he ventures off in a straight line at his own constant speed. 

In his way are a variety of obstacles, all bouncing around along set paths – and your only task is to choose exactly the right moment to set him off. 

Later stages feature a whirling confusion of obstacles and power-ups

Later stages feature a whirling confusion of obstacles and power-ups

As such, the skill required isn’t so much dexterity or mastery of the controls as judgement. It’s all about observation and intuition – which turns out to be an approach that’s perfect for an (often punishingly) skill-based mobile game.

Touchscreen controls are often lamentably fiddly, so something like Super Meat Boy‘s gamepad acrobatics just wouldn’t work. But Namaste Space Buffalo‘s mechanics don’t require manual dexterity at all, while still reaching similar heights of concentrated tension.

But all of this isn’t immediately apparent. The early stages of the game aren’t particularly challenging: you’ve soon got a good sense of the spuffalo’s speed, and the obstacles are few and easily evaded. But as you progress through the game’s 100 standard levels (a free expansion of ten extra-hard stages was released in the course of this review), things get really super-heavy, bruh

You have to consider the movements of perhaps half a dozen jittering powerups, spinning obstacles and blocked pathways – which are often moving on, around and through each other. It’s visually overwhelming, and some of the later stages will have you shaking with self-doubt before you even touch your finger to the screen. Yet somehow, among all of the chaos, there really is one perfect moment for you to push that button and send your spuffalo striding effortlessly through the maelstrom. 

Not terrible advice, as it happens

Not terrible advice, as it happens

At this point, it’s useless trying to calculate your chances intellectually. You have to rely on your intuition; your ever-deepening sense of the game’s rhythms. All of a sudden, you astound yourself – did you really navigate that pulsating day-glo maze of interlocking nasties in just one try?

You did. But you’ve no idea how you did it.

All of a sudden, the game’s tongue-in-cheek talk of enlightenment actually starts to make a little sense. You’ve moved beyond the conscious mind to an effortless unity of thought and action – in other words, you’re in the zone. It’s a rare and fantastic feeling – and long after the wacky presentation has faded into the background, it’s a feeling that’ll keep you playing Namaste Space Buffalo.

8 out of 10