Hexage — makers of Buka, Totemo and Radiant — have made a name for themselves developing quirky, neon, transcendental games for the iPhone and iPad. EVAC is their latest release, and it lives up in every way to precedents already set by these talented and unusual developers.
Around this same time last year, Hexage released Radiant, a space shooter paying homage to classic arcade shooters Space Invaders and Galaga, with nods to Pac-Man and other 1980s references as well. With EVAC the team once more returns to influences of yester-decades, this time paying more than a nod to Pac-Man. In fact, at first glance EVAC appears to be nothing more than an overly neon Pac-Man clone. Dismiss the game as such, though, and you will have done so unjustly. You will have also missed out on a real gem.
EVAC unfolds gradually, adding complexity as it does so. In the beginning, when the game is at its most basic — at its very foundation — the game is Pac-Man. Rather than a yellow orb with a mouth, you play a pink square with a face. Each stage is a maze, its halls littered with colorful pips that you must collect in order to advance to the next stage. Attempting to prevent your escape — filling in for Pac-Man’s ghosts — is a security force of red squares who sometimes patrol the halls, and at times give chase.
These labyrinthine halls belong to one Shadowbox, an evil black square with glowing, purplish eyes. You are his prisoner, but with the help of Cratos — a wizened, yellow box — you are determined to escape. Unfortunately, Shadowbox is quick to realize your intent and does not take kindly to your stealing his “colors” — the pips.
And that would be enough, if this game were Pac-Man. But it is not.
Beginning with the second stage, the game introduces puzzle elements such as pushing blocks, and panels that trigger events elsewhere in the stage. Blue panels open force-fields barring your path, while red security panels set off alarms and bring Shadowbox’s minions in hot pursuit. The third stage introduces stealth elements with safe-houses, hiding places where you may take refuge from patrolling reds. The fourth stage begins to introduce power-ups. The Ghost power-up temporarily allows you to pass through reds unharmed and move through force-field barriers. The Shock power-up zaps nearby reds, stunning them for a short while and rendering them harmless during that time. The Aura power-up surrounds you with a force-field that allows you to destroy the reds on contact for massive points. The sixth stage introduces traps, and so on with new stages gradually introducing new challenges and gameplay mechanics, ever building upon the simple Pac-Man premise with which the game begins.
EVAC also has an excellent scoring mechanism that rewards quick, skillful playing. Collecting pips builds your score multiplier, increasing the value of subsequently collected pips. Dilly-dally too long between pips, however, and your multiplier will begin to decrease until you start collecting again. You can suffer three hits from the reds before being captured, but each hit will immediately reset your multiplier to zero. Destroying the reds also boosts your multiplier and adds points to your score. Finally, at the end of each stage your progress will be rewarded with 1,000 points times your multiplier. To reach high scores, you will need to avoid contact with Shadowbox’s security forces, destroy them when you can, collect all of the pips quickly, and reach the exit before your multiplier begins to drop. The game tracks your high score for each stage, and optionally submits score to its online leaderboards.
More Neon Goodness: Hexage’s games bear a distinct look and feel. The company has a knack for imbuing simple shapes — circles, squares, etc. — with vast personality, then cranks the fluorescence to 11 such that everything glows in the dark. Sounds weird and looks questionable in still shots, but the games are lovely in motion and EVAC is no exception.
Sound Design: It’s as easy to recognize a Hexage game by the music and sound effects as by the neon visuals and adorably simplistic shapes. As in the games which have come before it, the sound design in EVAC is spectacular, a thick tapestry of transcendental electronica, and soothing blips and pings.
Puzzling Puzzles: EVAC’s puzzles are lovingly crafted and challenging, but always logical and fair. Some are entirely optional, rewarding you with power-ups, but unnecessary to complete the level.
Flexible Level Design: There are often multiple methods of completing a stage. The seventh stage, for example, presents you with an optional puzzle wherein blocks must be pushed onto eight floor panels to remove barriers obstructing an aura power-up. The bulk of the stage’s pips are in a section of the maze heavily patrolled by reds, with entry only possible by crossing over an alarm panel and raising security. And so the player must decide how to proceed. She can solve the puzzle, collect the aura power-up and use it to muscle through the guards while collected the pips. But the puzzle is challenging; one false move and ruin it, and it’s even possible to trap yourself with no way out, requiring the stage to be restarted. All of this can be avoided; the player may simply trip the alarm, then rely on stealth to get past the guards, ducking into safe-houses and waiting until the coast is clear. So much waiting around, though, is going to hurt your multiplier. It’s really up to the player to determine how they wish to proceed, how their efforts are best spent, and what method might allow them to attain the highest possible score for the stage.
Great Replay Value: Tying into the flexible level design, players may wish to revisit completed levels in an effort to better their score, and to determine the most effective strategy for completing any given stage.
iOS Multitasking: EVAC supports iOS multitasking. Hurray!
No Game Center Support: Sadly, EVAC lacks Game Center support. It would be great to see achievements implemented for completing various tasks in the stages. For example, completing the puzzle and attaining the power-up described above, or meeting a high score threshold for each stage.
Hexage makes good games, and EVAC is yet more proof of it. The game takes the relatively simple arcade mechanics of Pac-Man then expands upon them manifold with elements of puzzle, stealth and action gaming. Rarely do games accommodate so many different styles of gameplay while maintaining a perfect balance, but EVAC pulls it off. The game plays equally well on the iPhone and iPad, so it’s entirely up to your preference whether to buy the SD or HD version, or both. The game’s 24 challenging levels and excellent replay value offer great value for your buck. Fans of Pac-Man or arcade games in general, consider EVAC a no-brainer. Buy it.
EVAC and EVAC HD are developed by Hexage and retail individually for $0.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4 and iPad.