The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Mighty Mill Games is a new studio out of Nottingham, England, but the small team has plenty of experience on bigger games like Criterion's Black, Free Radical's TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, and scrapped versions of Star Wars: Battlefront 3 and Homefront 2. Tanuki Forest appears to be a zen, endless-runner alternative to all the shooting of years past.
You control an unidentified furry creature that glides from left to right via tap-to-float controls. You sail through an enchanted forest rescuing distressed animals along the way, creating an expanding chain of followers behind. Each critter collected increases your score multiplier, while pushing "the hero" farther to the right and offering less warning for killer black vines and monsters. If you want to go back to being a loner, you can drop all of the tailgaters off at a Shinto Gate for a small point bonus and lost multiplier. Once the chain reaches seven, you start a special mega chain in which you travel at super speed and gather a small army of animals behind with no obstacles in the way.
Building up these chains, going into mega mode, and doing it all again in succession is the ideal way to earn the highest score and is the most unique element of gameplay. The risk/reward dynamic is clever and keeps you on your toes.
The rest may remind you of other entries in the genre. Power-ups include special animals that grant extra health and offer an alternate control scheme. The better options include a turtle (who feels like Flappy Bird) and Fat Tanuki (who flies along a straight horizontal line until you swipe up or down). Others don’t always work as smoothly, like the unwieldy marlin or the monkey that’s supposed to follow your finger but lags too far behind to be useful.
Just like Jetpack Joyride, you have three side missions at any given time that encourage alternate strategies like running along the ground for a certain distance, going through gates without animals, or wearing a different hat. These keep you coming back for more even if you're having trouble making it past 1,000 meters. Collecting reward stars advances you through a series of totems, and unlocks exclusive rewards you can't buy at the in-game shop.
Unfortunately, all of these rewards (and almost the whole shop) are cosmetic unlocks only. I'm open to the character outfit changes and background environment updates, but I don’t care about filling the title screen with tchotchkes, or the "den" to the left of said screen. You can buy familiar consumables like a magnet that attracts the currency (kami), or a rocket that gives you a head start. This system is meant to encourage you to buy more kami to gain the advantage on leaderboards. Even though it's common practice in the runner genre, I always think it ruins the integrity of the rankings.
Tanuki Forest is completely free to play; it just takes longer to progress without dropping some cash. That said, the Kami doubler is only $1, and further packs max out at a respectable $6.99. I had no problem buying the doubler and making my way through totems without dropping another dime so don’t worry about getting bugged to pay all the time.
Overall, Tanuki Forest is a quality take on the endless runner genre and looks very pretty (especially on iPad), but the prevalence of well-worn features from past successful entries in the genre simply instills too much déjà vu to push it to king-of-the-hill status.