Review: Aiko Island

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Blue is good. Red is evil.

It sounds like we’ve flipped the channel to MSNBC, where liberal commentators are blithely bashing Republicans in our ever-more-divided national political landscape. We’ve actually landed on Aiko Island, a puzzle universe where colorful blocks with cutesy eyes battle over snack items.

Surely the difference is obvious.

As Angry Birds knock-offs go, Aiko Island isn’t particularly apologetic about copying from the world’s most famous game app. An evil set of fuzzy blocks (pigs) has stolen chocolate-chip cookies (eggs) from a friendly set of blue-colored blocks (birds), who need your help to get them back. And by “help,” we mean solving a ridiculous number of Rube Goldbergian-type physics puzzles, where the goal is to kill all the red Aikos without injuring or losing any of the blue ones. (The Aikos, with their expressive, googly eyes, are cute, but they’re also ringers for the blocks in Topple, another popular iPhone/iPad app.)

And, oh, as Dr. Seuss might put it, the things you’ll do to accomplish that goal. A whopping 125 puzzles, spread across four themed environments (forest, desert, frozen wasteland, etc. ) await your fingers’ tender mercies, and you’ll be doing everything from firing cannonballs and activating plungers to popping and toppling stacks of Aiko like furry balloons and igniting explosions with kegs of TNT. There’s scarcely a corner of the physics universe that remains unexplored by these cookie-loving bastards.

But where Angry Birds trains its focus on slow, deliberate experimentation with trajectory and force, Aiko Island emphasizes speed, often in a very frustrating way. A timer tracks how quickly you solve each level, and you’re rewarded with an extra cookie if you can beat the level’s pre-determined timer goal. Essentially, this forces you to repeat each level multiple times in order to master it. The first time through, you’re just looking for the solution, taking as much time as you need to scan the sometimes seriously complex puzzle set-ups to figure out what you can interact with and how. Each level only features a handful of movable pieces: On some levels, you can pop red Aiko to cause a chain reaction; on others, the red furries sport protective metal armor and you’ll have to find a way to work around them. Once you’ve found the solution through some good ol’ trial and error, you’re now faced with executing it in the quickest manner possible.

And in some cases, the touch-screen controls make it all but impossible to pull off. In one of the earliest puzzles on the desert environment, your task seems simple enough—set off a keg of TNT on the right hand side of the screen to launch a red Aiko across the screen to the left. Before the keg blows, you have to tap to destroy two rotted wood pieces that have positioned a rectangular blue Aiko in the middle of the screen, and then time the detonation of a second TNT keg on the left side of the screen to blast the flying red Aiko to its doom as it lands. All in the span of ten seconds.

If your touch doesn’t immediately register, you’re effectively screwed, as several attempts that came in a few hundredths of a second short revealed. Scoring more cookies per level means more levels unlocked more quickly, so while this isn’t a devastating deal-breaker, it does create a sense of frustration and unfairness that weighs the proceedings down.

With a dizzying number of puzzles to wade through—and more supposedly to come—Aiko Island clearly offers a massive bang for the buck. Your willingness to overlook the game’s derivative concept and unforgiving time constraints will go a long way toward determining whether you’re blue-state or red-state on it.

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Pros:
+ Ridiculous array of puzzles offers huge value
+ Puzzles are often clever and challenging

Cons:
– Painfully derivative concept
– Timed levels and imprecise touch controls equals cookie frustration

Game Info:
Platform: iPhone/iPad
Publisher: Iceflame
Developer: Iceflame
Release Date: 10/11/2011
Genre: Physics Puzzle
Age Rating: 4+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.