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Burn the Rope - Review

One of the things I love about reviewing mobile games is that I get to play things that would never get released on consoles – at least, not unless they had already made a splash on mobile phones first. Burn the Rope from Big Blue Bubble definitely falls into that category. While its gameplay could technically work with an analog stick, Burn the Rope is designed entirely around rotating the phone in crazy directions.

Burn past the break for our full review.

Instant Appeal

The first thing you’ll notice when playing Burn the Rope is the catchy lyrical theme song. It’s almost as good as Parachute Panic’s, and would make a great ringtone in a future Mango update. The title screen also features an adorable dancing flame character, though sadly he isn’t really integrated into the game itself. There are no cinemas of the flame doing silly things (beyond a brief intro), which would have tied the many levels into a more cohesive whole. During gameplay, the flame looks just like a real flame, with the personality coming from the insect enemies (who make silly sounds) instead of the protagonist.

Structure

A farm setting serves (perhaps inexplicably) as the hub world of Burn the Rope.  The game’s 112 levels are divided up into 7 groups of 16 each. While the levels within a group can be tackled in any order, the entire group must be complete before players can move on to the next one.

Gameplay

Each level consists of one or more rope segments, with the object being to burn as much of them as possible. Players have a single flame with which to accomplish this mission; tapping any part of the rope starts the fire a-burning. The catch is that the fire only burns upward, not horizontally or downward. Thus you’ll need to quickly rotate the phone around to keep the fire going and the rope going away. Unlike many games with tilt controls, Burn the Rope actually involves rotating the device completely upside down and all around. I found the controls much more intuitive than expected, as it really feels like you’re turning the rope around in order to keep the flame alive.

Going for the gold

Only sixty percent of a level’s ropes need to be burned in order to clear the level, but only gets you a Bronze Medal, which is worth slightly more than spit and a bit less than a pack of gum. The real objective is to burn 95 percent or more of the ripe in order to earn Gold medals. Since the game only has Gold Medal Achievements and not completion ones, Golds are definitely where it’s at.

At its heart, Burn the Rope is a puzzle game. The trick in most levels is figuring out where to actually start the flame, because it won’t be able to destroy enough rope if placed poorly. Getting it in the right spot, twisting the phone expertly in order to avoid burning out, and hoping for the best will usually result in success.

Trickier and trickier

Before long, levels start throwing colored ropes into the mix. These can only be destroyed by matching-colored flames; a standard flame just burns out when it reaches colored ropes. To change the flame’s color, you have to burn ants. Once the fire passes through an ant, it switches to that insect’s color. The color-changing mechanic makes tackling the rope in the right direction and order extremely important.

Entomology for dummies

Ants aren’t the only kind of bugs players must destroy over the course of the game. Each insect type has a specific effect on the gameplay:

  • Beetles: These rockin’ bugs must be destroyed by a flame of the same color, much like colored ropes.
  • Spiders: When a spider dies, it shoots out a web out at a 90 degree angle. Webs function just like rope and can bridge the divide between multiple rope segments.
  • Fireflies: Much like a Joss Whedon sci-fi show, these explode when burned. Fireflies can spread flames across gaps and take out large areas of rope at once.
  • Electric Bugs: They come in pairs, all Sith-like. Destroying one takes out its partner, spreading the flame to both insects’ locations. These really complicate things when you’re trying to burn sections of rope in a certain order.
  • Water Bugs: A flame goes out instantly when it hits a water bug. You generally want to have more than one flame going when dealing with these.

Exclusive Minigame

The Windows Phone version of Burn the Rope includes an all new bug-squashing minigame. It pops up automatically after every three completed levels. In the minigame, hordes of colored ants run from the top of the screen to the bottom, plus a few electric bugs. The goal is to earn points by consecutively tapping ants of the same color; accidentally hit an electric bug and the bonus round ends.

The new minigame might seem like a cool bonus for WP7 users, but it’s really not. First off, performance in the minigame has no impact on the rest of the game in any way. It doesn’t boost your rating on the previous level , and minigame scores aren’t saved in a leaderboard… It’s just pointless. Eventually I started going for the lightning bugs right away just to get back to the real game quicker. Also, the iPhone and Androids versions have a different bug-killing minigame that’s missing here. So WP7 didn’t really get extra content, just slightly different and worthless content.

One buggy game

For a game that involves killing lots of bugs, Burn the Rope is ironically infested with a major crashing bug. This occurs when restarting a level. The game crashed more than twenty times on my way to completing the game, which is unacceptable in an Xbox Live title. We notified the developers, who promised to investigate and try to fix it in the future.

Achievements

Burn the Rope has two batches of Achievements: some for killing X numbers of each bug type (basically gimmes) and some for earning Gold medals on each set of levels. While gold medals should of course be rewarded, I’m surprised there is no Achievement for simply beating the game. Due to all the gold Achievements and some occasionally frustrating levels, I wouldn’t call this game an easy 200 GamerScore. But if you get your head around the way the puzzles work, you should be able to get all the Achievements eventually.

Overall Impression

Burn the Rope is well-suited for portable play with short levels and great use of the phone’s tilt sensor. I wouldn’t call it a must-play as it needs a proper metagame to tie everything together. The worthless new minigame and frequent crashes also mar the experience on Windows Phone. But the gameplay itself can be quite enjoyable (when the insects aren’t randomly messing up your solutions by going the wrong way), so you should at least try the demo and see if it hooks you.

Burn the Rope costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Swing over here to the Marketplace to pick it up.

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Burn the Rope - Review

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