Warner Bros. Sucker Punch on iPad Doesn’t Quite Throw A Mean One

Two of the iPhone’s biggest hits, Doodle Jump and Angry Birds, have jumped into doing tie-in apps with feature-length films.

Here’s a third film studio looking to do the same: Warner Bros. hired Boulder, Colorado’s Mondo Robot to build Sucker Punch Mech Gunner to promote its estrogen-heavy action film. There are no ads or in-app payments here though. Mech Gunner is strictly to build up buzz for the upcoming movie, Sucker Punch.

The game seems to do a good job at that, as our most recent look at the top free iOS titles put the game at #38. A simplistic first-person shooter, it is a better attempt than most as a promotional game. With three levels, the game is a short. But without monetization, that isn’t surprising. Even so, the shortcoming of Sucker Punch Mech Gunner isn’t so much in the basic design, but more in the fact that the game handles clumsily at best.

The long and short of the movie Sucker Punch is that the main character called “Baby Doll,” retreats to a fantastical world within her own mind as a coping mechanism when she is institutionalized against her will. From here, she and her female compatriots must figure out how to escape their prison. Now, when we say “fantastical,” we mean that mech robots, dragons, samurai, and about half a dozen more outrageous concepts have all been mixed together.

In the case of Mech Gunner, players take control of a semi-customizable mech suit (its color scheme can be altered) as they pilot it through an alternate history version of World War I filled with bi-planes, zeppelins, and reanimated soldiers. The app uses a dual-touch control set up, where touching the screen on the left activates movement and the right controls aiming.

Immediately, the clunky nature of the game is noticeable as the suit moves at a slow pace that is only made more apparent by the sluggish pacing of the game as a whole. As you move, slowly, soldiers will fire upon you, but since it’s WWI, they don’t exactly do a lot of damage to a mech, nor do they fire very quickly. They don’t even ever move. From here, controls get in the way too.

To fire the primary machine gun, which never runs out of ammunition and must merely be reloaded with a shake of the iPad, users must press the fire button located directly above the movement controls. This means that players must completely stop, aim painfully slowly, and then shoot. To slow things down further, the machine gun zooms in when fired, adding another handful of seconds to the already slow pacing. The only weapon that works as it should, meaning it can be shot on the move, is the secondary grenade launcher, where the trigger is above the aim controls; meaning users can shoot and move simultaneously. Unfortunately, it has a slow reload time.

The fact of the matter is, first-person “shooters” are rarely this slow, as such a pacing just doesn’t fit well with them. And unlike games or missions where the player is still and shooting (e.g. sniper-based games or missions) a game set in the chaos of a world war, doesn’t exactly have the same feel. To further add to this, the game is extraordinarily easy, as health regenerates passively and the only dangerous enemies are bosses. Not that they are hard either, as they also do not move, and only provide a threat because they have more health and do more damage.

What makes everything feel even slower is that there is no real tension. Other than some background noise, players never really hear bullets hitting them or whizzing by them, enemy guns are soft, and nothing really feels alive. It’s just a shooting gallery.

Once users gain access to a jet pack in the second level, the game picks up a bit with some minor platforming and increased mobility, but it is still more of the same: Stop, point, and shoot.

Nevertheless, the game does do a good job at getting the people interested in the movie. Not only is the app fairly high on the Apple free app charts, but users can compete for high scores and achievements in each level via Game Center. Moreover, high scores can be posted to Facebook.

Aside from this, the visuals are pretty decent. It’s not the best. But for a completely free app, it’s not that bad either. The game actually does have the feel of a war-torn region, and a battle with a zeppelin amidst squadrons of bi-planes (that actually do move).

In the end, for a free game, Sucker Punch Mech Gunner is a better attempt than most to spark interest in an upcoming film; especially when one considers that it’s 3D. Most, like Angry Birds Rio, are 2D. The game suffers from a lack of challenge, clunky controls, and a painfully sluggish pace. Nevertheless, it seems successful at generating interest in the film coming out later this week.