You Should Play: Astronut

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[These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.]

Space is a pretty popular setting for games, and with good reason: Space is awesome. From early titles like Galaga and Lunar Lander to more recent fare like Halo and Mass Effect, space has captured our imaginations. I think one reason it?s so popular for games, though, is because it supports a wide variety of types of play, from strategy-based titles to shooters to arcade-style ventures like The Iconfactory?s Astronut.

In space, no one can hear you wheeeeee: Collect hearts and shards while avoiding being eaten by aliens. Just another day at the office.

In Astronut, you take on the part of big-chinned astronaut Jacques (who bears somewhat of a resemblance to Toy Story?s Buzz Lightyear). Your main job is to propel Jacques from planet to planet using the power of gravity and inertia; along the way you can pick up pieces of crystal to earn bonus points, and acquire power-ups like shields, but you?ll have to avoid the nasty aliens that plague this particular incarnation of the galaxy.

The most compelling part of the game is the physics. As you jump Jacques from planet to planet, you?ll find yourself sucked in by the gravity of the worlds you pass. Sometimes this can lead to you spiraling through the level, just missing landing on any particular planet?but while that comes with dangers like colliding into unseen aliens, it also nets you bonus points for ?hang time.? A particularly well-timed jump can net you dozens of extra points.

There?s a lot of fun to be had in Astronut; its arcade/platformer nature makes it one of those games that you can pick up and put down when you want to, or, alternatively, play through at a longer sitting?that?s the sweet spot for mobile games, in my opinion. In case that doesn?t convince you, well, try these reasons on for size.

Different strokes: You can kill enemies by hitting them with your built-in boost (which takes some time to recharge between uses) or colliding into them while you have a shield, but you don?t have to. You can instead be a peaceful, sneaky space explorer who hops from planet to planet without engaging the bad guys. Your call.

Variations on a theme: While most of Astronut uses the same mechanic of jumping from planet to planet, the game throws in enough differences that you?ll stay on your toes. Early on, enemies simply hover around for you to fly into them?later ones land on your planet, then chase you around a bit. The planets change, too, going from Earth-like worlds to volcanic ones that you can?t stand on for too long, or artificial spheres that eject you after a few seconds. There?s even a bonus stage if you manage to collect all the crystal shards in a level, that uses the device?s accelerometer to pilot your ship and collect extra points.

Whimsy: The Iconfactory?s games are never without a touch of whimsy?see the excellent Ramp Champ and Pickin? Time for other great examples. The company has been in the design business for a long time, and they know how to make art that?s attractive and has a touch of humor. They?ve incorporated these attributes into the game?s sound effects too?just listen for Jacques?s echoey ?Not good!? when getting sucked into a black hole, or his ?Hot! Hot! Hot!? when he?s stood for too long on a volcanic world.

Play how you want: Astronut?s available on both the iPhone and the iPad, but if you happen to have both devices, you can also use your iPhone as a controller for your iPad. You can even AirPlay mirror your iPad to your Apple TV, though the lag time was a bit slow for my tastes. Still, Astronut?s flexibility lets you play in the doctor?s waiting room, your couch at home, and pretty much everywhere in between.

Developer: The Iconfactory
Platforms: iOS (iPhone and iPad)
Price: Free, $2 to unlock full version (iPhone); $2 (iPad)

This story, "You Should Play: Astronut" was originally published by TechHive.

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