SocialScape: Social Critter-Herding Fun

There is no shortage of puzzle games on the Android platform. A new one comes out virtually every week, boasting of a never-before gaming experience, and pushing the limits of what the latest handsets have to offer in terms of raw processing power. It is heartening, then, to see a new game that focuses less on cutting-edge graphics and more on innovative gameplay mechanics and puzzles. It’s called SocialScape and it is being billed as a brain and puzzle game with a ‘social’ twist.

The term ‘social’ has become so synonymous with the web and virtually any new web service that comes out these days, my first reaction to a game named SocialScape was wondering how it will integrate with Facebook and the likes. Turns out it’s nothing of that sort. On the contrary, the game refers to the literal meaning of social – “related to a society or organization” – and weaves the gaming mechanics around the concept.

Introduction

The premise of the game is pretty simple – influence other critters stuck in a labyrinth to help them escape. You get a critter to control with the ability to turn your ‘aura’ on or off. Move close to a critter, turn it on and move in the direction you want the critter to go in. More than an exercise in ‘social’ though, I found it to be one in ‘leadership’.

Getting Started with SocialScape

Getting Started with SocialScape

This isn’t as easy as it sounds, though. Moving the critters along takes some getting used to as does ensuring the right timing when setting the toggle on or off. Then there are different types of critters, each with varying degrees of ‘faith’ in you, which influences how quickly they will start following you. Over time, the critters will get smarter and try to do things their way, making it even more difficult to move them exactly where you want.

Controls

You get two control inputs: a joystick to move your critter in any direction and a toggle button to switch on and off your aura. As you move closer to a critter and switch on your aura, the critter will slowly start in the direction you are moving. You can switch the aura off once it is on its way. To make it turn, switch on the aura again and move in the new direction.

SocialScape Controls and the 'Aura'

SocialScape Controls and the 'Aura'

Although the controls get the job done for the most part, they are not exactly the most responsive ones I’ve seen on a mobile game. Moving your own critter around can be a task until you get used to it; making the other critters move is even trickier. Trying to get used to the controls can be difficult, frustrating even, till you get a hang of it. Fortunately, the effort pays off once you do and start moving the critters around at your command.

Presentation

Let’s get one thing out of the way – SocialScape is not likely to win any awards for its graphics or interface. The graphics in this game are barebones to say the least. The brightly colored patterns on a dark background do establish a certain look for the game, setting it apart from pretty much every game out there. Each critter is nothing but a blob with features remotely resembling a face; just enough to differentiate them from the background.

Rudimentary Graphics

Rudimentary Graphics

On the interface front, things are similar. The menus are simple lists, and the controls are translucent set of circles in the bottom corners of the screen. They all work as you would expect them to. Once you are inside the levels, a few bright blocks provide hints on how to move forward. These appear every time there is a new game element – like keys or spikes – that you need to deal with.

SocialScape Menu

SocialScape Menu

Gameplay

SocialScape is more of a puzzle game than an arcade paltformer. You are expected to move around the level, to think about the situation presented to you, and to figure out the best way out of the level. And since you are responsible to get other critters – whom you do not have direct control over – to move to the exit, patience is key. It can take a while to get used to the controls and to figure out when to switch your aura on and off to make the best of the influence you will have on the critters.

Making Critters Work

Making Critters Work

As you progress through the levels things start to get tougher, with boxes blocking your path, locked doors, spikes and rollers. You can push the boxes around with your critter. For the doors, there are keys lying around which only the other critters can carry. Touching the spikes can reduce your health and touching the rollers will hurl the critters around the level. (Took me a good 10-15 attempts to get around the roller the first time I encountered it.)

Spikes can be deadly

Spikes can be deadly

One thing to note here is that the game’s description on the market suggests it is a ‘physics’ based social action game. I’m not sure about that, really, since the only parts where the physics aspect comes into play are the boxes that you can push around and the spinning rollers. Even then, pushing any box – big or small – takes more-or-less the same effort.

Revolving rollers

Revolving rollers

Conclusion

QR Code

SocialScape is not a game for everyone. If you prefer the trigger-happy variety of action packed games, this one is not for you. But if you are the kind who prefers to take a slower, more calculated approach to gaming, thinking at each step and making every move count, you may want to give SocialScape a go.

You can try out the Lite version of the game for free to see whether it works for you. The full game costs $0.99.


Summary

SocialScape is a puzzle game where you herd a group of critters through a labyrinth by influencing their movements. The game has its flaws in the graphics and controls department, but if you've got the patience for it, the gameplay can be satisfying.

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