As versatile as touch-screens are, they arguably close as many doors as they open, with the lack of analogue control making it difficult to represent the joys of more traditional gaming fare. Even the humble platformer, a genre built on simplicity and accessibility, often ends up feeling compromised, as horrid virtual-controllers are thrown at the player that are at best workable, at worst borderline unusable. The dilemma that this state of affairs poses is one that developer Kumobius has attempted to tackle head-on in Bean’s Quest for iOS.
It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this adage can be liberally applied to Bean’s Quest, with Kumobius’ solution to the touch-screen platformer problem lying at the core of the whole experience. Here, the controls have been reduced to the bare-minimum – tap the left side of the screen to move left; tap the right side of the screen to move right and…well…that’s it. Though the accessibility of this system is obvious, there is a rather large elephant in the room, namely how do you jump (an entirely required action for any platform game)? Kumobius’ solution to this is as pragmatic as its decision to get rid of 90% of traditional control-inputs: have a central character that never stops jumping. And what never stops jumping? Why, a Mexican jumping bean of course! Ladies and gentleman, meet Emilio the Jumping Bean.
Even though Emilio started life as a human (he was transformed into a bean by the evil wizard Malmagoz), his cuteness diminishes somewhat when you bear in mind that the jumping-bean phenomenon is caused by a moth larvae gestating inside a bean. Nevertheless, Kumobius’ choice of hero is actually a small act of genius, justifying as it does Bean’s Quest’s central mechanic. Were our sombrero-wearing jumping-bean hero to stop jumping, he would just be a bog-standard bean – and a bog-standard bean’s platforming abilities are minimal at the best of time. The jumping-bean has also provided Kumobius with a theme with which to tie the adventure together – jumping beans are Mexican; Mexicans wear sombrero’s; Mexican’s like Mariachi bands. Boom! The hero, his costume, and the accompanying soundtrack are decided in one fell sweep.
Sadly, the rest of the game is far less thematically cohesive, a fact that can be quickly confirmed by glancing at the title of each of the game’s six worlds: Grasslands, Dusty Desert, Crystal Peaks, Sky Ruins, Wizard’s Lair and Malmagoz. The first two could possibly be deemed to be ‘Mexican’, but the rest? Well, unless the game is exploring the life and times of a Mexican drug-runner with a penchant for sampling his own stock (which it emphatically isn’t) then we think it’s would be fair to call them pretty generic.
The lack of thematic cohesion continues when you actually start playing, with Bean’s Quest’s worlds seemingly having been cobbled together from odds and sods left over from platformers of the past; a Mario block here, spikes and swinging platforms from Sonic the Hedgehog there, Namco-esque monsters and Pokemon (axolotls, apparently) sitting just out of reach demanding to be rescued. Collectibles (another platforming staple) are also strangely indistinct – Mario had coins, Sonic his rings and Rayman his Lums; Bean’s Quest has indecisively plumped for diamonds, jewels, triangles and balls. Something for everyone then.
The surprising thing is that despite the thematic confusion, Bean’s Quest actually looks rather lovely. Sprites and backgrounds are crisply and colourfully rendered and showcase a real attention to detail. Emilio the Jumping-bean is cute, charismatic and subtly animated, and enemies have a definite 8-bit era charm. The colour-palette is also rather arresting, with dusty-ambers and pinks contrasting beautifully with vivid greens and blues. Again, it is all a bit disparate in its application, but it looks great all the same.
Bean’s Quest’s gameplay also has chops. Emilio’s constant jumping does take some getting used to, but with time this mechanic gives the game a sense of individuality as well as facilitating some interesting gameplay challenges. Alongside the usual platforming tropes of jumping on enemies to kill them, bouncing off spring pads and dodging spikes, Kumobius make good use of physics and spatial puzzling. Blocks and balls are nudged around levels, and certain platforms can only be reached by launching Emilio onto springboards from a height sufficient to bounce him increasingly higher. Your dexterity is also put to the test which, when combined with the spatial puzzling, can make for quite a challenge. That this is all being achieved with essentially two-inputs makes it all the more impressive.
In true iOS style, levels are relatively compact affairs that have the ‘a quick game while waiting for a bus’-crowd squarely in their sights. With that being said, Bean’s Quest can be quite a tricky beast, with frequent restarts (thankfully restart points are intelligently placed) and puzzles that will leave you scratching your head. For the most part it gets the balance between challenge and frustration right, though there are occasions when things can begin to lean towards the latter. The frustration of such occasions are magnified somewhat by a soundtrack that can begin to grate. It is perfectly in line with the rest of the game – being bright, jolly and stuffed with Mexican sounding trumpets and guitars – but by the time you’ve heard the same short tune repeated for about the fiftieth time…it’s mighty tempting to pop into the menu screen to turn it off.
Bean’s Quest isn’t perfect, but it provides a spirited and slickly presented slice of platforming action for iOS gamers, with six challenging worlds that offer good value for the £1.99 asking price. It is disappointing that thematically it doesn’t hang together quite as well as it should, especially as Kumobius have a definite flair for striking visuals and solid character design, but it’s old-school leanings make this just about forgiveable. We do hope that next time (assuming he isn’t too worn out by this adventure) Emilio the Jumping-bean doesn’t stray quite so far from the Mexican border, as he’s more than deserving of a world that he can call his own.
D+PAD reviewed Bean’s Quest on an iPod Touch, using a download code supplied by Surprise Attack.
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