New developers have gravitated towards DSiWare since it launched, resulting in a broad variety of titles on the service. Kiloo Games is another developer making its DSiWare debut, having previously focussed on developing for smartphones, entering the fray with puzzle platformer Zoonies – Escape from Makatu.
In Zoonies you play as Leo the Lion, who is enjoying a typical Sunday afternoon flight in his personal aircraft, as lions tend to do in their spare time. All of a sudden he is bombarded by spears and forced to crash land. Makatu is a native chief of a warrior tribe of Tubas, and they are determined to capture Leo and keep him in a cage for their amusement. It’s oddball storytelling, but that's not a bad thing; the story isn’t really important, and the still images used are charming and colourful.
When starting up the first level it becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t a standard platform title. Leo continually runs to the right, similar in some ways to BIT.TRIP RUNNER, though at a slower tempo. By using the stylus on the touch screen, your task is to manipulate the environment so that Leo can continue his progress without any obstacles or traps getting in the way. There’s a broad variety of obstacles to avoid, ranging from simple blocks to bridges and trapdoors that must be operated by levers. This is where the puzzle element of the game comes into play, as you need to be careful with timing and execution to avoid sending Leo to his doom.
The stylus-based gameplay used to manipulate the environment works well, for the most part. Simple actions like breaking blocks and activating switches are easily done with a tap or swipe of the stylus; it is immediately intuitive and fun to execute. There are occasions, however, when you’ll need to hold and drag movable platforms along set routes. The controls to do this are slightly awkward and inaccurate, which becomes a problem in some of the more difficult later levels. It is a shame that this one element of the controls is flawed, as the remainder of the stylus actions work well and allow you to tackle the challenges on offer effectively.
The difficulty and level of complexity in the puzzles is surprisingly high. The developers have included a generous and clever checkpoint system to ensure that, despite the significant challenge, frustration is kept to a minimum. Leo walks past a checkpoint prior to each major puzzle, ensuring that you have multiple opportunities to pass an area. If you do run out of lives you have to start the level again, but with each continue giving you ten new lives, you have plenty of opportunities to progress. Leo does die from one hit or fall, but the number of lives and checkpoints make this a reasonable decision on the developer’s part.
The controls and difficulty work well with the overall level design. The puzzles are not only clever, but they have excellent variety. One particular highlight is a level where you literally catapult Leo through a number of traps as quickly as possible. These puzzles must be solved quickly, as the pursuing enemies can’t be allowed to get too close, and the ensuing panic will force some mistakes. There are also four ‘boss’ levels that provide a slight twist on the puzzling tricks you’ve learnt in earlier levels. The gameplay balance feels right, and is undoubtedly a fun experience.
Unfortunately, there is perhaps not quite enough quantity to match the quality. The single player campaign is the only mode, and the 20 levels can be beaten in under two hours. Some incentives have been added in an effort to encourage repeat play-throughs: each level has three collectibles, supposedly items dropped from Leo’s plane, and a ‘gold medal’ time to try and beat. For the committed gamer these may provide the additional playtime that is required, as collecting all items and medals is a difficult task. The collectible placements are particularly fiendish, and it is unlikely that you will win many medals the first time through the game.
Special recognition should go to the developers for their achievements with the graphics engine. Leo is a well animated 3D character model, while the levels themselves are colourful and pleasing on the eye. Although the range of environments is modest, those that are included are beautifully constructed, with some excellent backdrops and overall artistic design. Sound design is more modest, with music and sound effects that are pleasing, without truly excelling.
Zoonies – Escape from Makatu is a strong DSiWare debut from Kiloo Games, boasting delightful visuals, challenging puzzles and heaps of charm. The downsides are few in number, but occasionally the controls aren’t quite precise enough and the adventure is on the short side. However, this game is worth consideration for all DSi owners, as it provides a fun and polished experience for just 500 Points. Leo the lion deserves to be a roaring success.