simian.interface is the sort of game that you can point to as an example of how mobile devices are more than capable of housing original and inventive gaming experiences.
Developed by indie studio Vested Interest and published on iThings by EA’s Chillingo imprint (you can also play it in your browser), the game is a bizarre delight from beginning to end – with plenty of secrets to be found for those willing to spend time mining its digital depths.
The basic premise is relatively simple, albeit wonderfully bonkers. A little pixelated chimp is hooked up to a computer, and it’s your task to perform a series of spatial tests on the poor thing. With every series completed, your little monkey is rewarded with a banana. Occasionally a cat in a pink cardigan pops up on the screen, for no other reason than the fact that cats are fucking cool, and cats in pink cardigans are cooler still.
Using either the iPad’s motion-sensing capabilities or your finger (the game gives you the choice – personally, I’d recommend finger control), you drag the camera around in 3D space so that the shapes on screen are arranged in a particular way. It sounds simple on paper, but in practice it can be devilishly tricky. Although the game’s puzzles exist in three dimensions, the simple visual style presents them as being on a 2D Plane. If you’ve ever played Fez before, you’ll know how this simple visual trick can be used in all kinds of mind-bending ways.
Despite the simple visual style – backgrounds are flat colors and most of the time all you look at are simple geometric shapes – the game looks gorgeous. Sometimes less is more, and Vested Interest has crafted a title that really pushes the limits of that concept, but come up trumps with the final result. It’s the sort of game that could exist in some near-future art gallery, hanging on the wall just begging to be played with.
While you desperately try to work out how the game wants you to solve each puzzle, a fantastic soundtrack (courtesy of chiptune composers Note) accompanies the action. 8-bit beeps and chirps rarely sound this good, and it’s a testament to the aural wizardry on offer that immediately after finishing the game, I purchased the soundtrack. It now happily resides in my iPod’s music library, providing my ears with digital bliss every time I walk down my local high street. Each series of puzzles is home to a separate tune and they never outstay their welcome; in fact, you’ll wish each section lasts longer purely so you can continue listening.
On first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game is rather short – you can reach what appears to be the end within an hour and come away wondering whether your money could have been better spent elsewhere. Go back into the game though, and you might discover a secret solution to a level that you didn’t notice before. Once completed, the level will be marked with flashing indicator on the menu screen. Complete a number of these and you can unlock additional bonus levels.
The game never explicitly mentions this; it’s a slight shame, considering that there is far more content to be found than is immediately apparent and plenty to keep you going back for more. It also helps that some of the secrets are incredibly difficult to unearth, giving you plenty of opportunities to furrow your brow and scratch your head. simian.interface is a game that rewards perseverance and repeated playthroughs. To simply put the game to one side after a single run would be to miss out on some of its most rewarding content.
With its abstract visuals, toe-tapping chiptune music and brain-hurting puzzles, simian.interface is a genuine joy. It’s something that is both incredibly difficult to describe, but that you’ll want to talk about.
If Phil Fish and Jeff Minter bypassed the laws of nature and had offspring, simian.interface would be the end result. And it has cats in pink cardigans. What’s not to love about that?