Worm Run (iOS) review

Worm Run is a new iOS game from Golden Ruby Games. It’s available now as a $0.99 download from the App Store.

Worm Run is ostensibly an “endless runner” game, but rather than following the autorunning Canabalt or Temple Run mold, it instead takes the form of a randomly-generated retro-style platform game in which the player, cast in the role of space janitor Zeke Tallahassee, must escape from the unwanted attentions of a gigantic slobbering space worm who wants nothing more than to chow down on our hero.

Unlike most endless runners, Zeke does not automatically run forwards and is instead controlled by swiping in any direction on the screen. The reason for this is that levels do not simply follow a straight line with obstacles to jump over and duck under — instead, they twist and turn, frequently double back on themselves and are designed much more along the lines of those you would see in a NES-era platform game. Their randomly-generated nature means that each game is a different experience, giving Worm Run potentially limitless replayability.

Between attempts, the player may spend collected “Grubies” to purchase various items. These include new costumes for Zeke; various collectible items that, once purchased, will show up at various points in the game; and warp tunnels directly to later stages of the game. Additional Grubies may be acquired via in-app purchase, and there is also the option to make a one-off $0.99 purchase to double the player’s Gruby income for those who do not wish to simply buy progress. This sort of “coin doubler” option is becoming an increasingly popular inclusion for many developers, as many players are more willing to buy in to a one-off purchase than potentially have to keep spending on currency packages. It also simply accelerates progress rather than being a “pay to win” solution.

The game makes extensive use of Game Center for its social features. As well as incorporating a leaderboard and suite of achievements, as the player progresses further in the game, they are regularly shown the usernames and scores of other randomly-selected Game Center users in the game world, allowing them to keep constantly apprised of progress without having to look away from the path they are following. Players running iOS 6 or later can also make use of Game Center’s new Challenge facility to directly challenge their friends to beat their scores or earn a specific achievement. This is an excellent feature of iOS 6’s Game Center that developers do not draw enough attention to.

Worm Run is a very solid game in almost every way, then, but there’s one fairly major flaw in the formula — the swipe-based controls, which take a lot of getting used to, and which are very difficult to use with any accuracy, particularly on the small screen of the iPhone. They’re arguably better than a virtual directional pad totally lacking in the haptic feedback necessary to play a game like this effectively, but they’re also not particularly precise. On more than one occasion I found Zeke getting caught on the scenery because he’d run underneath something rather than jumping over it, and this often led to an untimely death. It’s doubtless something that dedicated, skilled players will learn to live with — but it also runs the risk of putting off a lot of newcomers at the first hurdle.

This aside, though, Worm Run is a good game for those who can deal with the awkward controls, and a nice twist on the rather stagnant endless runner genre. Its retro presentation is endearing and its gameplay is addictive — it just remains to be seen how the public responds to the control scheme.

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A good evolution of the stagnant endless runner formula, but the awkward controls may be too offputting for some players.