Incoboto for iPad review

Pulling off the impressive trick of being simultaneously cheerful and sinister, iPad-only adventure Incoboto is an effortlessly characterful take on puzzle platforming. It's created by one of the chaps behind Xbox roleplaying game Fable, but this is only evident in the good-natured charm of the thing. Incoboto's single smartest tweak to the age-old formula is realising how lonely all that jumping and collecting can be. First it emphasises that, by setting itself in a stylised world where everyone but you has died out, and then it subverts it by introducing a constant companion character. That character is the sun.

Well, a tiny, happy sun that speaks in sing-song baby language. Helios, as it calls itself, wants to help you - apparently - but it needs your help to do that. So, as you (playing tiny pixel astronaut Inco) bound around strange, circular levels shaped like micro-planets, you collect solar energy which recharges your luminescent chum, in order that it can then shine beams which open up pathways to new areas.

Which does, of course, mean it's yet another iOS game featuring jumping puzzles, but the near-constant presence of that child-like orb, the globe-like levels (reminiscent of a far smaller-scale, more subdued Mario Galaxy) and the crafted look gently ease it into a distinctive mood and personality. The puzzling is ambient and, for the most part, not overly taxing. Jumping escalates into throwing, switching, grappling and even diving through portals, but it's usually evident what needs to be done - a matter of pulling it off successfully and combining the level's various contraptions in the right order, rather than trying to decipher what on Earth's expected off you before you can even begin to make progress.

Incoboto slowly layers on complexity, with new mechanics introduced every few stages, and eventually it requires a reasonable degree of spatial awareness as you find yourself soaring through the space the surrounds each planetoid. There are occasional wobbles when it plunges into fiddliness, but really this is a game that's more about journey than challenge. If you do want something more taxing, there are optional extra collectibles - when aren't there in this kind of game? - that require more careful scouring and precision jumping. At times, you'll need to backtrack a little to revisit a planet who's features are changed by something you've activated elsewhere, but it avoids doing this to an obtuse or frustrating extent.

The greatest joy in Incoboto comes not from the jumping and puzzling itself, but the results of it. Your actions gradually restore the dead, static worlds to a kind of life, as towers form, lights spring on and machinery splutters into motion. There's a sense that you've done something good, not simply bested a challenge. Your solar companion is always on hand to offer a gurgled cheer or confused yelp too, guiding your sense of progress and achievement.

Somewhat at odds with this organic cheeriness is the game's demands to have its sometimes excessive words not just read but also shared, via one of those increasingly ubiquitous and rarely likeable in-game Tweet functions that tries to talk you into sharing selected quotes from the game. Sword and Sworcery, the progenitor of that kind of thing, has an awful lot to answer for. It's not so much that the writing and its pseudo-profundity is low-quality, but rather that it disrupts a tale that's being told perfectly well via the visual aspects of the game. Still, it's only a minor interruption to a pleasantly sleepy romp through a strange land. And if you're really into the in-game fiction, there various abandoned diaries and messages from the sinister 'Corporation' that once governed these planets to comb through.

The thoroughly tactile controls play a major part in Incoboto's charm, opting for naturalistic swiping and dragging rather than frantic tapping. It's as much a pleasure to interact with Incoboto's world as it is to look at it. Other than a rather abrupt ending, Incoboto is that more treasured of App Store offerings - a game that feels complete and crafted and made entirely with iOS devices in mind. It's a coherent vision rather than a business model in disguise, and exactly the sort of thing we'd willingly have coughed up £30 or £40 for back in the 90s. At £2.50, it's an absolute steal.

OUR VERDICT

Effortlessly charming, carefully escalating, and somehow making the absurd concept of being followed around by a friendly sun make it perfect sense, Incoboto is as finely-crafted an adventure as the App Store offers. Only the voguish Twitter-quoting function and the occasional obtuse puzzle let it down.

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