Once the staple genre of gaming on a home computer or console, the platform game changed completely with the introduction of Sonic the Hedgehog, so much so that today, it’s tough to find a traditional platformer to play.
But how is traditional defined? To anyone who grew up playing 8-bit, then 16-bit systems, platform games invariably fell into two distinct types – the single screen and the side or vertical scroller.
Side-scrolling platform games will forever be associated with Nintendo’s Mario series, but also included other cutesy entries such as New Zealand Story, and shooter/platform hybrids like Exolon on the ZX Spectrum. Vertical platformers were less common, but did feature such gems as Nebulus and Taito’s Rainbow Islands.
For many though, the single-screen platform game is the most fondly remembered, primarily due to Donkey Kong and its sequels, plus Taito’s fantastic Bubble Bobble. Commodore Amiga owners not only had a great arcade conversion of Bubble Bobble, but also its own original game that had a similar appeal – Qwak.
Like most platform games, if there is a plot, it’s largely inconsequential. All you need to know is that you play a duck, and must collect enough gold keys to open the door to move to the next level. There’s a strict time-limit on each stage though, and if you take too long, spiked balls will rain down from the heavens, ready to squash dawdling ducks.
Each level is filled with enemies who either need to be shot or avoided, goodies to collect and power-ups to grab to help you complete the level.
Enemies vary from those who move in a set fashion, to those who are enclosed behind a wall of goodies, who when released will home in on you. One touch and you lose a life, and before you go blindly throwing eggs – your weapon of choice – around, they’re in short supply and you’ll need to conserve them for later levels.
You can replenish you stock of eggs by collecting the fruit on each level, while the power-ups include all-important layers of armour, high jumps, temporary invincibility and even a jetpack.
There are six levels in total, each with ten stages and one bonus stage at the end. Although levels one and two are quite easy, the challenge really begins when you get to level three, which takes place in a wintery wonderland.
Before this, you could play through the stages quickly, without really worrying about where to go, as you’d automatically stumble across the keys and switches needed to open the exit. Once you reach level three, it becomes essential to plan a route around the screen, using the power-ups and coloured keys at the right moment, to ensure sure you don’t get trapped. It also takes some working out if you want to grab the difficult to reach goodies too.
To beat Qwak, you’re going to have to put in the practice, as this is old-school platforming, and very difficult when compared to most modern games.
This said, Qwak is by far one of the best platform experiences on the iPad. It’s terrific fun, very addictive, and superbly designed. Its playability is helped by its simple control method – four buttons, two on either side of the screen, for left and right movement, jump and fire – whose layout can be subtly tweaked under the Options menu.
The controls have just the right degree of sensitivity too, so you never feel cheated by them when things go wrong. This is an important distinction, as instead of becoming frustrating, errors only spur you on to do better next time, as you know they were your fault and not that of some dodgy controls.
It all looks fantastic too, with Qwak treated to a Retina Display upgrade, meaning everything is pin-sharp and beautifully detailed. The music is also catchy, adding to the polished, highly professional look and feel of the game.
Also included in Qwak HD is a two-player option that works using the Joypad app available through iTunes. This requires two (willing) players, who must own both an iPhone, which then act as controllers with the iPad as the main screen. It sounds good, but unfortunately couldn’t be tested for this review.
If there is a downside to Qwak HD, this is it, as it would have been good to see a two-player mode that used the Tiny Wings HD method of splitting the screen, which would have opened it up to more players.
Qwak HD is also a separate game to Qwak for the iPhone, but at £1.49 it’s a small price to pay for such a great game, and to support an independent developer who obviously works hard to produce titles that look and play brilliantly.