The original Tilt to Live is an iOS classic. The frantic gameplay of swooshing through red dots and collecting neat powerups has rarely been matched by other arcade competitors, and the game has always had a place on my phone. After spending hours with Tilt to Live 2, I was glad I still had the familiar icon of the first game just a click away. While it may look like its predecessor at first glance, there’s a much different game waiting for you in the sequel; one that probably won’t be taking up space on my phone for much longer..
Whenever I play Tilt to Live, there’s a kind of uninterrupted flow I allow myself to get into. It’s fun to set aside 10 or 20 minutes, and just zone out into the experience. It’s a phenomenon that only Super Hexagon and a few others ever produce from the screen of my phone, but it’s a compelling one that I find myself craving. There’s a zen-like feeling that comes with that sense of speed, that sense that “This is the round where I’ll break my high score.” Tilt to Live 2 works to abolish that from the experience, and towards ceasing the fun with every other tilt.
Before we hit the worst issues, Tilt to Live 2 isn’t a terrible game by any standard. It’s a shell of its former glory, but even the shell of greatness is still kind of okay. The problem with Tilt to Live 2 is that at nearly every point where it could have improved on the original ideas, it took a step backwards. The game has its bright spots; the graphics look incredible and it runs at a far superior frame rate. Some of the new abilities are really, really fun to use. But every time I think about playing the game to see how nice it looks or to use the awesome new amoeba power, I remember everything that’s wrong with it and decide to boot up ol’ faithful instead.
Tilt to Live 2‘s biggest problem is that it has no idea how keep the momentum going. Remember in Tilt to Live, Super Hexagon, or Geometry Wars, when you play for a solid 90 seconds and your fingers become a physical extension of the game? That doesn’t happen here, because you’re interrupted by boss battles every minute or so. The game forces you to stop the flow, literally turns to a different screen, and presents you with an unrelated challenge to the core game. The bosses themselves are pretty neat to look at, and would have cool for a separate boss mode, but to toss them into the core game is a huge misfire. And that’s only the beginning.
Whenever you meet your inevitable demise, the game doesn’t immediately ask if you’re ready to start another round. Instead, you’re forced to play a mini game where your character flies around the screen wildly near a target, and you have to steer yourself into it. If you land in the middle section, you revive and are thrown back into the middle of your previous game. The other sections of the landing zone are point multipliers, and will add 10, 20 – or if you’ve already used your revive – 30 percent to your total score. Trying to hit the target isn’t fun, and it isn’t why anyone plays Tilt to Live. You have a lack of control, there’s no threat, and it’s a time waster. Also, the arbitrary number of points added to your score really mess with how fair the game typically feels. If you’re looking at a guy who got a million points on the leaderboard, maybe he just got a fraction of it and got lucky with an extra 30 percent boost, or maybe he lived two lives? Who knows? It takes away from the established ruleset, and feels like it violates the biggest draw of the game.
There’s no way to skip the death sequence either. Every time you die you have to flail around towards the target. If you just want to jump back in and try for a better round you’re out of luck, as your score won’t tally until the round is technically over. So at the end of every round I’ve decided to sit my phone down for about 10 seconds until I’m allowed to play again. In games where speed is key and “one more round” is a draw, this is a death sentence.
The flow isn’t only interrupted by the round-enders, though. One power-up freezes the game so you can tilt a cursor around to target enemy dots. It doesn’t last long, and it kills them, but wasn’t the fun of the first game trying to rack up combos as fast as possible while speeding away from enemies? This powerup actually freezes the game, stopping any momentum you had entirely. The sensitivity slider is also absent from the sequel, so cranking it up to max out your mobility isn’t an option anymore. You’re forced to move at the pace the game wants you to, which seems to be a theme throughout.
Remember how fun it was to kill dozens of dots in quick succession to rack up an insane combo meter, and how you had to chain kills within seconds of each other to keep it going? The developer didn’t, because that combo system is gone, too. Combos are now rewarded for performing certain “tricks,” like bouncing into a fireball repeatedly or chaining power-ups together in a row. Some of these could make neat bonuses, but having them be the basis of the entire combo system just isn’t exciting. You can kill dots as quickly or slowly as you want, and you’re score won’t see much of an impact.
Even some of the smaller design choices have an impact as well, especially for a fan of the first game. Here are a few:
The nuke power-up doesn’t retain the clear time limit or radius any more. In the first game, a nuke would pulse outward and then back in, and you always knew where it would kill dots and when it would dissipate. Now it’s one static circle that instantly vanishes when its time is up, defeating how deliberately designed the boost used to feel.
One of the power-ups floats around and rapidly changes color for no discernible reason, other than to make sure you never know what it actually is.
The loading screen jokes are sadly absent, which were genuinely clever and went a long way in adding some silly personality to the original.
The sound effects are noticeably less interesting compared to last time, and the soundtrack is less memorable, too.
The menu features a weird, cyclical rotation to choose from the modes and options, and it feels a little out of place.
Speaking of game modes, there are two. I realize the original game didn’t launch with the five modes it currently has, but expecting some kind of parity in a sequel isn’t too redonkulous, is it?
Even though Tilt to Live 2 is a disappointment, I keep giving it another chance, and another chance… And then one more. I want to love it like I loved the original, but the soul is gone. It’s so strange that the developer thought this was the way to evolve a beloved game, and I’m more interested now than ever to see exactly what happened during development. For now it might be worth a few plays, but don’t expect it to sail as smoothly as before. Many of the game’s biggest problems could be solved with a few alterations, or maybe a few new modes that recapture the spirit of the first. It’s neat to see some of the concepts that work, and where things could’ve gone. For now, however, we’re stuck with a lackluster parody of what remains a distilled excellence.
This review is based on retail App Store code sent to the reviewer by the publisher.