Buka Review: Being Cute In Space Is Punishable By Death

Buka may very well be the cutest game on the iPhone. Whereas most games are cute and friendly, however, Buka is cute and punishing.

Your role is that of protector. Buka is a blue orb traveling through space, cute and defenseless, on a quest to find The Happy Place. It’s your job to protect Buka, fending off or destroying swarms of space baddies resembling astral jack-o-lanterns. Your task begins simply, but the onslaught increases with each level, pushing your skills every nearer their limit. The game utilizes a combination of touch and tilt controls. Buka can be moved either by touching him and dragging him around the screen, or by tilting your device. I began the game using the touch’n drag method, but quickly came to rely on the tilt controls as I progressed further into the game, my fingers being needed elsewhere. To defend Buka, you can repel baddies by tapping the screen; tapping causes a brief burst of energy that pushes things away. Or you can press and hold on the screen to charge an explosion; the longer your hold before releasing, the more powerful the blast. Blasted baddies of a certain size break up into smaller pieces a la Asteroids. Buka can take only so many hits before perishing.

Likes

Empathy: Like I said, Buka may very well be the cutest game on the iPhone. It very well imparts a feeling of empathy towards Buka, using simple, but adorable graphics, dialogue and sound effects. “Me go so far. Go with me,” Buka says, and so your journey together begins. At the outset of each level, Buka talks to you, imploring you to protect him. “Baddies hurt me. TAP TAP TAP make Baddies go away,” he says. As Buka takes damage, you see him grimace and hear him squeak; as damage accumulates, he becomes cratered and battered looking, but keeps smiling at you all the same, because he knows you’re doing your best to protect him. Buka has placed his faith in you, and you feel honestly bad for allowing him to be harmed.

Meanwhile, the Halloween space rocks continue tumbling onto the screen in increasing numbers. When Buka dies and tumbles off the screen, they taunt you and goad you into trying again. They’re like cats playing with a mouse, out to kill but more interested in the process than the final act. They’re bullies, and their attitudes only further steel your resolve to help Buka.

Atmosphere: I’m big on atmosphere in games, and Buka nails it. The visuals in the game really work. What we’re essentially dealing with here are circles in a void, but the color choices, faces and animations really give those circles a lot of personality and charm. The sound effects tie right into it as well, and the game’s music is best described as chill. It’s all well-designed, and draws you in.

Dislikes

No Multi-touch: A game like Buka screams for multi-touch support, but it just isn’t here. You can move Buka with your finger, but can’t set off explosions or repulsions while you do. And you can only set off one attack at a time, despite the hordes closing in from all sides. If I have only one major misgiving about Buka, this is it.

Difficultly: The game starts off easily enough, but quickly ramps up. A game this cute shouldn’t be this difficult, at least not so early on. I only succeeded in getting about 13% through my journey before I started having my rear handed to me in small pieces.

Buka is a game I keep coming back to. It’s charming, lengthy and easy to pick up for quick sessions. I’d really like to see the game updated with multi-touch support, but otherwise find it very enjoyable. Buka contains two play modes, a level structured Journey mode and a Survival mode. Buka just dropped to $0.99 from $2.99, making this an excellent time to check it out.

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Buka is developed by Hexage.net, and was reviewed at version 2.1.1 on an iPhone 3G. Buka normally costs $2.99, but is now on sale for $0.99; a free lite version is also available.

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