Turn Pictures Into Platforms with Piclings on iOS

PiclingsPiclings is a new platforming game for the iPhone and iPad that does things a little bit differently. Developed by PAN Vision, the game has all the simple mechanics of a standard platformer, but changes things up by allowing users to utilize their own photographs as levels.

Automatically creating levels from pictures, Piclings already has a very interesting premise. That said, the game itself is a bit underwhelming. After you get past the initial novelty, the title ends up feeling very average. Nevertheless, with the ability to edit and share each of these photographed levels, the amount of potential is quite high, and where the game lacks in design now, is something that could easily be remedied in time.

Players control a strange little creature called Picazzo. Using his leafy hairdo as a helicopter, Picazzo jumps and flies form platform to platform in the attempt to collect every coin in a level. It’s all very simple: Players control the avatar with a virtual analog stick that appears wherever the screen is touched, and drop down beneath platforms with a tap.

To add some challenge to the game, Picazzo can only fly for a limited amount of time before having to recharge a sort of “flight meter” by landing again. Additionally, the levels are littered with enemies called Huffies and Puffies with the former following the user when they get close and the latter following the shape of certain platforms in the level. In order to get rid of them, the player must either cause them to collide with each other (e.g. when they are following the user) or touch them after they have picked up a “butterfly” power-up that makes them invincible. Touching them at any other time will reduce the player’s health.

PowerupsThere is also a camera power-up that will freeze enemies for a short time and a health pickup. The key is that there is ‘a’ — singular — health pickup. Each of the noted power-ups only appear once in each level, and while that isn’t a bad thing, it is, however, the only thing.

Other than coins, two enemy types, and three power-ups, there is nothing else in terms of game play. Even the seven pre-made levels are fairly basic and there’s nothing truly interesting about them in terms of design (most are just photographs). The only longevity that really comes out of them is Game Center integration that hosts leaderboards (scores are based on remaining health, collecting all coins, enemies killed, and level completion time).

In this regard, the novelty of the game is also it’s biggest complaint. PAN Vision relies too heavily on the use of photographs as levels. The problem is that while a funny picture can be amusing, there’s nothing challenging or interesting about it from a game design perspective.

Now, here’s where the potential is. Players can edit and share these levels, but this is very rudimentary at the moment. As it stands, each photograph will have enemies, coin and power-up placement, and platforms algorithmically placed based on the image and it actually works quite well. However, players can go into the photo and edit where they want to place platforms, cleaning up what the automated import missed. Unfortunately, this is all the player can do at the moment and the only way to share is via email.

Create LevelWhat players need is a little more control in how levels are created. There needs to be something more interesting for them to create in these worlds beyond importing a background image — as a side note, these images often make it difficult to tell what is and is not a platform when playing. There is a lot going on behind the scenes with Piclings, and user-generated content can often prove very successful (simply take a look at core game Little Big Planet), but users just need more tools to be creative with.

Other than the current limitations of Piclings’ primary gimmick, the only other qualm that comes to mind is that the game can be a bit sensitive in terms of its movement controls.

Overall, as a game, Piclings is a rather drab game. There’s just nothing in there that warrants significant design praise. Nevertheless, as a platform for making something fun, there are some very interesting things happening in regards to this photo-to-level creation. At the moment, the amount of control granted to the user is rather limited, but in time and with more creative tools and sharing mechanisms, Piclings could become much, much more interesting.