Catch Me! If You Can Brings Cooperative Arcade Puzzle Play to the iPhone

High scores are all well and good, but sometimes it is nice to have something a little bit more to a game. While leaderboards might be good way to garner competition with other players, what about the concept of working together rather than against? This is sort of the idea Montreal, Canada-based developer ODD1 had in mind with it’s latest iPhone title Catch Me! If You Can.

Based on the classic arcade game, this app has players taking on the roll of a thief as they run through a maze of city streets collecting gold, jewels, and other riches as they avoid a trio of very persistent guards. The idea, is to collect as much loot as possible before the time limit expires and without being caught.

Should the player be captured, the level brings forth an pleasant surprise. Rather than losing, the user is placed in the role of one of the three guards. The same time limit continues to tick down, and they will not go back to being the thief until they have caught, well, the thief. Since the objective of each level is to acquire as much coin as possible, it is prudent to capture the deviant as quickly as possible.

To make things more interesting, each character type also has special abilities they can use to make their respective jobs easier. As the thief, the player can see the entire map and leap over objects. If they are one of the guards, then they only see a limited area around them and can either reveal the entire map, lay traps, or sprint, but frankly, the guy that can reveal the map seems to have gotten the short end of the stick.

The game is presented in a warm, quirky style coupled with light-hearted music, but despite how good it looks, the controls were aggravating. The movement of characters is actually controlled using a digital directional pad (like the one on a Nintendo). This hurts the game on two counts: First, since it is just a digital version of a directional pad, there is no tactile feedback when a direction is pressed, so it is more difficult to steer without looking at where you are pressing. You can’t “feel” which direction you are pressing, leading to slow reactions and frustration when trying to flee guards or catch thieves.

While this might seem like a minor point, when people have grown up accustomed to something being a certain way, that’s what they expect, and changing that just comes off as irritating. A digital directional pad is not the same thing as an analog one, and with the iPhone, there are a myriad of other control methods that could be employed (touching where you want to go, path drawing, or even tilt controls). Moreover, the emulation is backwards with the pad on the right and the buttons on the left; another key detail.

Despite the control complaints, Catch Me! If You Can did come with another saving grace. While players can play through subsequent levels in a “Story” mode, or play quick games with a “Challenge” mode, it was a feature called the “Band of Thieves” that was the most interesting. Rather than compete with other players, users actually work together. After each level, acquired gold can actually be sent to what is called the Treasure Vault; a community collective of every player’s submitted winnings. On the screen, users can see a progression bar that shows how much has been turned in, in total, as well as a percentage of their contribution.

The benefit is two-fold: Not only does the player get the social gratification of seeing how much they are doing, but when the progression bar is full, ODD1 actually releases new content. According to the developer, new content will generally be free and will consist of new levels and challenges. As it stands, it doesn’t look like users can see what others have contributed specifically, but such an added leaderboard-like feature would be very nice wish list item. Not only would you get the benefit of seeing yourself “score” higher than your friends, but the you would also get the gratification of viewing how much more you did, or did not, help the community; something that can eventually evolve into pseudo-celebrity status in more in depth online communities. Vain, it’s true, but vanity can be a powerful tool.

Of course, such status levels are highly unlikely in Catch Me! If You Can. This is generally more reserved for complex social role-playing or massively multiplayer online games. Nonetheless, the employed social technique should still prove effective, and this app does still make for an okay of a classic title – if you can get over the tough controls. Frankly, an update in this regard is desperately needed, but perhaps younger gamers will be more forgiving. Currently, the full version, costs $1.99, but a free rendition with the first three story levels and the Band of Thieves feature is also available.