Ugly Animals (iOS) review

Ugly Animals is a new iOS game from Cerasus Media. It’s available now as a free download for iPhone and iPad, and is currently featured as a New & Noteworthy app on the App Store’s front page. The game carries a single in-app purchase to unlock its full content and remove advertising.

Ugly Animals is a physics-based puzzle game in which the titular ugly animals (actually more monsters in most cases) must woo the ladies of their dreams by putting gift boxes in specific locations. Gift boxes, like most other objects in the game, are affected by the laws of gravity and physics, and thus must be sitting on something stable when placed on the marker in order to register as a success for the level.

Controlling the game simply involved dragging objects around to their desired locations, and occasionally using two-finger gestures to rotate objects to the correct orientation. Objects will stay “attached” to the player’s finger for as long as they keep touching the screen, but will drop to the ground as soon as they are released. Certain levels have “fixed” objects that cannot be moved, and this means that moveable objects can often be rested atop these in order to create stable platforms on which the box can rest.

The basic gameplay idea is simple and sound, but unfortunately the experience is let down significantly by a dreadful physics engine that behaves incredibly unpredictably. Just moving an object around slowly will often cause it to rotate and wobble in strange directions, and it is often very difficult to get an object facing the right direction — particularly on the small screen of the iPhone, where the two-finger gestures required to rotate objects frequently require some extremely awkward contortions to work at all. Unfortunately, given that the simple nature of the game is so reliant on its control scheme, these questionable and unpredictable in-game physics make it very difficult to enjoy the game. When it works, it’s a fun, if straightforward puzzle game. When it doesn’t, however, it’s absolutely infuriating.

The game monetizes in its free incarnation through ads that occasionally appear between levels, and through a single $1.99 in-app purchase to remove the ads and unlock all the available levels. The game’s social features include Game Center compatibility for achievements only — there is no leaderboard, as there is no real “scoring’ system in the game. Game Center connectivity does, however, allow iOS 6+ users to issue challenges to their friends to acquire particular achievements, adding an extra social layer to the otherwise single-player experience that is the rest of the game. The game’s title screen also allows users to send an email to their friends with a link to download the game.

Ugly Animals has the potential to be a solid game and is certainly well-presented, with graphics that are packed full of personality and catchy, unobtrusive background music. Unfortunately, the issues with the control scheme and physics engine are too significant to ignore, as they make the game significantly less enjoyable than it could be. If these things can be tweaked and improved, there could be a fun little physics puzzler here; as it stands, however, it’s far too frustrating an experience to recommend.

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A good idea spoiled significantly by poor controls and a worse physics engine.