When a game sets out to be a well-blended mixture of the retro graphics of Another World and the boy/horse combo of Shadow of the Colossus, it's hard not to be on board. Add to that a healthy dose of the tightly-controlled horseback/archery gameplay of Ocarina of Time and baby, you've got a stew going. So how tasty was this bite-size meal of a game? Was A Ride Into the Mountains able to satisfy my craving for old-school goodness?

I suppose I would be remiss not to admit that I've got a weak spot for pixel-art graphics. Before I got started with this title, I checked out the trailer and was pretty encouraged by the sight of developer Lee-Kuo Chen's YouTube avatar. The sight of a River City Ransom Kunio-style character was all I needed to know that this game was made by people that also were suckers for nice arrangements of a minimal amount of pixels. And that's just what A Ride Into the Mountains happens to be.

You play as a young boy named Zu who must carry on his family's task of protecting a precious relic on a nearby mountain. The game starts after an otherwise peaceful day is interrupted by a meteor that strikes the side of the mountain. As Zu, you must jump on your trusty steed and ride off to investigate.

But it wouldn't be much of a game if that space rock was just full of minerals and junk, would it? So naturally, there's a bunch of demons that have been released after the impact. How is Zu supposed to make it all the way up the mountain with all of these demons getting in the way? Well, that's what he has his trusty bow for (all of Zu's stuff is trustworthy, apparently).

For a game that looks as simple as this, there's a surprising amount of gameplay depth to be found. While the basic arrow-shooting mechanic stays the same for the most part, everything you do with it is constantly changing and being tinkered with. Taking a page from the Angry Birds playbook, the mechanic for shooting an arrow is to simply slide your finger away from an enemy and then lift it up to fire an arrow. The longer you hold down, the faster the arrow will fly through the air.

You will also gain a Focus ability that will allow you to slow down time by tapping a second finger on the screen. This will help you through some tough scrapes when the screen is dense with enemies. But while the archery combat feels like a nice, inventive inversion, the tilt controls don't quite measure up to the same level of precision. In order to move around in the game, you must use the accelerometer to guide Zu out of the way of incoming danger. At times, this can feel unwieldy. Though if you're having a good time like I was, it doesn't take long to get the hang of it.

The levels in A Ride Into the Mountains alternate between side-scrolling and top down perspectives. And while they basically are the same type of gameplay in each, they manage to feel quite different. A big reason for this is because the game does a great job of rolling out new challenges and enemies that will require you to figure out how to beat them.

Because of this, the combat never has the chance to feel repetitive. The new elements are well-timed and often show up in conjunction with power-ups that will help you as well. There are also boss fights peppered in that will require you to combine whatever newly-acquired skills you just got and put them to the test.

For only a dollar, this game is really a great value and an impressive effort from developers Chia-Yu Chen and Lee-Kuo Chen. I likely would have enjoyed myself with this title even if it had been thin on gameplay. The beautiful, spare look alone is worth the asking price. But when you factor in the attention to detail and well thought out pacing of the gameplay (not to mention the challenge), you have a title that's a must play for anyone that likes gaming on iOS.


App Store Link: A Ride Into the Mountains for iPhoneiPad | By Lee-Kuo Chen | Price: $0.99 | Version: 1.0 | 8.5 MB | Rating 9+

9.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating