Gaming on the Throne: Review of Squash the Street for iPhone

img1_lrgSquash The Street by Last Legion Games, is the latest iPhone/iPod Touch game to be chronicled in my “Gaming on the Throne” series at CrunchGear (see explanation).

Initially when I played STS I was a little underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the execution was solid, but it seemed kind of repetitive to me. Then something happened that changed my mind and ultimately led to me giving it a thumbs up. We’ll come back to that. First let’s look at the game synopsis, directly from Last Legion’s website:

Financial Crisis?  Let your rage rain down on the crooks and swindlers who caused it.

Watch the shady bankers, creepy fraudsters and corrupt CEOs flee their gilded offices, sprinting for the nearest escape vehicle. Squash and flick the snarky scoundrels up and down the streets and sidewalks in the festering heart of the city where all the thievery and greed began. Recoup your losses with the monetary awards you receive from successfully squashing the white-collared criminals who stole your retirement savings. Fund your unending vengeful rampage with precious metal bonuses hoarded from certain embezzlers who just couldn’t grab enough. Be a responsible steward: avoid bankruptcy or your bubble will burst.

sts12As the game progresses, there are more and more scoundrels on the scape at the same time and it becomes more difficult to accurately keep up with the tapping triturations. Although periodically a snowflake shaped icon will appear on the screen that when tapped will momentarily freeze the action, rendering the hapless, helpless snarks motionless—like fish in a barrel. You can then, of course, easily eliminate them in one fell swoop.

After each level, your hits and misses are evaluated for you composite score in cash. Oh, and if you lose it all, you get to enter your initials into the hall of fame. That’s kind of funny. I assume this is commentary on the “golden parachute” culture pervasive on the Wall Street of yesteryear.

My Thoughts
Squash The Street is a mildly entertaining if not somewhat one-dimensional game that can be best described as “Whack-A-Mole” on the iPhone, but with moving human targets and better graphics.

Let’s start right there with the graphics. When I said the the game was one-dimensional, I was referring to it’s strategy and not to its visuals. The graphics, which depict a city street viewed from above, are actually very nice. Careful attention was paid to the bird’s eye view of this scape, right down to the cracks surrounding the manhole covers on the street. The parallaxing street lights also sell the environment—a nice touch. It’s fun to look at and that is important.

But back to the one-dimensionality and how the game changed for me. Initially, I thought Squash The Street had a funny, albeit angry, subtext going on about the current financial crisis. To be honest, the “squashing Wall Street insiders” motif quickly got old for me. It wasn’t quite overt enough for me to be able to tell if this game was designed by someone that lost a bunch of “long green” on Wall Street and was bitter about it or if it was really just a bunch of immature developers having a laugh (which I could respect much more). It was distracting for me but in the end I decided it’s at least another angle for another game right? I have to admit though, that I wasn’t blown away.

Then, after nearly completing a way-too-serious review (I have re-written much of it) and after giving the game a score of  “meh”, I realized that the volume had been off on my iPhone the entire time I was playing STS. I turned it on and OH WHAT A DIFFERENCE THE AUDIO MAKES!

Squash The Street has GREAT sound design. I didn’t realize just how important that can be, but it is very important! The driving and quirky soundtrack is fun. Also, each time you crush one of the fraudsters, they bellow some random and equally arrogant utterance with the dry, northeastern WASPYness of Thurston Howell III. This drastically adds a dimension of newness and hilarity to each level. I instantly wanted to play the game more and realized that, indeed the developers of this game must have at least some inclination toward puerile humor. That cleared up the ambiguity of the subtext and made me an instant fan!

The Good
As I said earlier, the graphics are excellent and the physics of smashing and flicking the financial nemeses are accurate and compelling. The audio is awesome with a capital A.

The Bad
From a usability standpoint, I found it a little irritating that while in the act of trying to smash the runners by tapping on them, my hand actually obscures the screen a bit and makes it hard to see when some of the little analysts are spawned. Also, I never got far enough in game levels to see if the street scape ever changes (I probably made it through about 7-8 levels). It would be more interesting to me if the backgrounds changed out periodically. Additionally, the game lacks some advanced features like saving your level so you can pick up where you left off the next time you play.

The Extras
sts3Hey, they finished this “tapping” engine framework for the game, they might as well expand on it right? And they did. Squash The Street has 4 extra “mini games” that are essentially re-purposed functionality from the main game, packaged into less robust schemes. Some I like better than others, like Clean Sweep for example, where you use your finger to sweep up all the blood from the street. In any event, it’s a nice extra for your $.99, which is the cost of the game at the app store.

The Bottom Line
Squash The Street is a fine way to waste some time while doing your virtual part to help rid the world of the petulant, fallen, autocratic elite. It’s a humorous game for not so humorous times and that is a good thing. While it’s not the kind of game I  will play often, it looks good, sounds good and performs solidly and for that I can recommend it.