iDef crossed my path through another Twitter interaction, this time with the friendly chaps @Dexteritydev. The version I played was on the iPhone, but perhaps it would have been more fitting on a Windows phone. Windows famously took over 90’s phone giants Nokia to cement their foothold in the mobile hardware and OS market. Dexterity Design stated that “iDef is a tribute to the classic game of Snake but with several twists and a modern polished look.” Mechanically, it does play a lot like the classic Snake, made famous by late 90’s and early 00’s Nokia phones (anyone remember the Nokia 5110?). If I was to describe iDef in a sentence, it’d have to be: fast-paced, familiar, fun.
In terms of the visual style, there’s some parity with other retro homages: Space Invaders Extreme and Geometry Wars. There’s a pulsing electro soundtrack and decent sound design to supplement, with a bit of voice thrown in.
The game takes place on one grid, comprising the only ‘level’ if you will. Difficulty and tactics used by the player guiding ‘Electro’ the snake are determined by the game’s 3 modes: ‘Normal’, ‘Zen’ and ‘Nasty’. The main objective is to keep the snake’s energy up by consuming ‘dischargers’ (or as my weird brain immediately labelled them: “yellow twirly circle things”) and to gain as many points as possible while doing so.
The two main differences between iDef and the original Snake are that Electro the snake doesn’t grow with each pick-up and with every 90 degree turn the player makes, a ‘deflector’ is left behind, which changes the direction of the snake when hit. Subsequently, when the player is re-directed with a deflector, it rotates 90 degrees for the next time. This was a nice touch, meaning the player has to think about where to turn.
In Normal and Zen modes, deflectors are cleared in a horizontal and vertical line from the point of pick-up of a discharger. This provides some light relief from the visual reminders of your reckless input rate and another layer of depth to the gameplay. However, failure to pick up a discharger in good time will mean it starts to eventually countdown from 5 and break, leaving an impassable square on the grid. Not only that, but dischargers replenish the ever-decreasing energy bar (Electro is more power-hungry than a SEGA GameGear). Miss too many and you’ll get a “Game Over”.
To score points in Normal mode the player simply collects dischargers. Zen mode changes things up a bit by only scoring on the clearance of deflectors. Nasty, is similar to normal but the deflectors never clear, so the player must use deflectors tactically in order to preserve space on the board to manoeuvre. This is a creative and refreshing change from the usual ‘Easy, Medium, Hard’ in a lot of titles. However creatively named the modes are, ‘Hard’ usually just means faster, less health or more enemies to deal with.
Graphically, I was impressed by iDef. From the rotating space background, neon lights and colourful discharger explosions, to the pulse of a deflector-clearing cross and high contrast colour scheme; there’s a lot more going on than first meets the eye. Although there’s nothing visually groundbreaking here, the art design is a pleasing blend of retro arcade and what you might imagine Snake looks like now (and it does, kind of). It certainly does the job.
The sound design is actually very good for a small title. The pulsing electro soundtrack is catchy enough to have you bob your head to it whilst collecting dischargers. Combined with the frantic visuals, it kind of reminds me abstractly of bumper cars at a funfair. The almost robotic female voice samples that provide the player with feedback and warn: “Energy Low”, “Energy Critical” are a great finishing touch to a well thought-out end product.
In conclusion, iDef is a very nicely presented homage to Snake with crowd-pleasing audio and colourful visuals. Crucially, the added mechanics of deflectors and time-limitations through decreasing energy make the game its own unique enough product.
The three game modes provide longevity to a degree, but I, for one, have caught myself revisiting the game simply to beat the high score on Normal mode alone. Others may venture into the game’s other two modes for a different kind of challenge, but I’m personally more of a straightforward gamer and adopt a “Don’t die, beat the High Score” attitude. It’s been fun, great for 5-minute bursts of boredom-killing.