Polara blends auto-running with polarity shooter gameplay

Polara is a new iOS game from Hope This Works Games, whose last title was the excellent abstract puzzler Kunundrum. The new game is available now at a special launch price of $0.99, set to rise to $2.99 shortly. There are no additional in-app purchases, but the game does carry small cross-promotional banner ads for Kunundrum on its loading screens.

At its core, Polara is a 2D auto-running game similar to the immensely popular Canabalt. The player character Agent Lara automatically runs from left to right and must avoid various obstacles by tapping the screen to jump. The big twist on the formula here, however, is the special function of Lara’s suit — it can change color from blue to red and back again, much like the ship in “polarity shooters” such as Ikaruga. When Lara is red, she can absorb red obstacles and be unharmed by them; when she is blue, the same is true for blue obstacles. Thus successfully negotiating the game’s challenges becomes a combination of jumping and switching colors at appropriate times.

The bulk of Polara is made up of 50 story-based missions punctuated by cutscenes with some beautiful static artwork. The game tells the story of Lara’s escape from an oppressive regime and attempts to get back at them for the murder of her father, and unfolds across a series of increasingly-difficult challenges that gradually introduce the various types of obstacle Lara has to deal with. There are also four boss fights throughout the story.

Completed levels can be revisited in order to take on additional challenges — specifically, collecting the letters of the word “Polara,” which are scattered in inconvenient locations and may only be picked up if Lara is the correct color at the time; and finding a “Special” object, which is generally located in an even more awkward location than the Polara letters.

Completing the bonus objectives unlocks a series of six “Endless” modes outside of the main story. One of these is available from the start of the game and simply tasks Lara with surviving as long as possible against a randomly-generated level that incorporates all the possible obstacles from the main game. It’s significantly more challenging than the early levels of the story mode, but the simplicity of control and speed of restarting makes it just as addictive as its numerous rivals on the App Store.

Game Center leaderboards and achievements round off an already comprehensive, satisfying package and provide players with the means of competing against one another — and with iOS 6, it’s even possible for players to send direct challenges to their friends.

All in all, Polara is an excellent game, noteworthy for its combination of high-quality gameplay and gorgeous presentation. While the auto-running genre is becoming increasingly saturated, the simple addition of the “polarity” mechanics to Polara successfully set it apart from the competition — and this distinctiveness is only helped by the compelling, well-structured story mode.

As a new release, Polara is not ranked on the App Store leaderboards at the time of writing. Check back shortly to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.