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Fotonica (iOS) review: Infuriatingly fun with a unique art style

Fotonica is an iOS game designed to look like it's from the past, but it has a futuristic feel to the gameplay and beat-pumping music that makes it a great experience.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani

Jason Cipriani

Contributing Writer, ZDNet

Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.

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Fotonica ($2.99, £2.29, AU$3.79) is an endless running game, similar to the popular hit Temple Run franchise. Only, instead of outrunning an imminent threat, the goal in Fotonica is to complete each level with perfectly timed jumps and landings on the fast moving walkways.

fotonicapromo.jpg
7.7

Fotonica (iOS)

The Good

Fotonica has a cool minimalist retro art style and great accompanying music. It has both endless and multiplayer modes to keep the game interesting.

The Bad

There is no way to sync progress between your devices.

The Bottom Line

Fotonica is a never-ending running game that's worth it for the "Tron"-like visuals and ambient electronic audio.

What sets it apart from the rest of the runners is that each level is made up of a series of lines that transform into your surroundings as each new section quickly approaches, similar to a racing scene out of the "Tron" movies. The electronic music that accompanies your run changes, complementing each level's look and feel through synthesized sounds.

Fotonica has a line-based artistic style (pictures)

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Gameplay and controls

The first time you launch the app you'll get a brief tutorial demonstrating how to play the game. The control system is extremely simple. Touch the screen to run along the path, then lift your finger in order to jump, being sure to touch the screen again when you want to speed up the landing process.

This one-button control system is great because it makes it easy to pick up and play on your commute, waiting in line at the bank or wherever you are.

A series of eight levels is available in Arcade mode; the goal of each level is to cross the finish line.

Along the way as you jump from platform to platform, pink orbs show up for you to collect. Points are awarded for each orb collected, but reaching the various plateaus to get the orbs is more challenging than just running to stay alive. With bigger risks come greater rewards in Fotonica.

As you perfectly time each jump and landing, your character will speed up. At high speeds, the entire world around you lights up a golden color, adding to the feeling of going even faster. Make one mistake on your timing, and you'll still continue running, but everything returns to normal.

I struggled with the first level more than I'd like to admit. I would get into a pattern of touching and lifting my finger from the screen, landing perfectly and jumping at just the right time. Then I would encounter a new section of the level, only to fall and have to start all over.

After crossing the finish line on the first level, I assumed the next level would lead to a smoother experience. I was wrong.

Each level is more complex than the previous, adding different paths and challenges for you to maneuver through. In other words, the same level can end up feeling different each time you run it based on the path you take. Certainly, some paths are easier than others, but none of them are truly easy.

Endless and versus

When you're bored of completing levels in arcade mode, endless mode lets you see just how long you can last. Perhaps you like to envision that a monster is chasing you, or you enjoy the electronic music's accompanying beats as you go for your record. Either way, you'll have to focus to stay alive.

A Versus mode pits you against a friend sitting across the table from you. Splitting the screen in half, each player is presented with the same world for their run. Your opponent controls his or her runner from his respective side of the screen. On your side of the screen, it's business as usual. The first person to mistime his or her jump and fall off a platform loses the game.

Bring the sync

While the game's custom soundtrack for each level brings quality pumping bass sounds, Fotonica lacks an option to keep your progress synced across multiple devices. So if you start playing the game on your iPhone, you won't be able to later pick up your iPad and continue your efforts.

I really think that when a game is available on both the iPad and iPhone, some sort of syncing solution should be offered. Hopefully that will come in future updates.

Conclusion

Between the interface and the custom music, Fotonica is unlike any game I've ever played. Its fast-paced style in which the excitement builds the further you get makes it hard to put down.

It's one of those games that makes you so mad you can't quit playing it, because it's so simple it feels like you should be an expert at it, but it continues to surprise you with new challenges.

Though it's what I'll call pleasantly frustrating, Fotonica really needs a way to sync to other devices to limit the frustration to the gameplay itself rather than having to start over on a new device.

fotonicapromo.jpg
7.7

Fotonica (iOS)

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Interface 8Performance 8