You Should Play: Ski Safari
[These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.]
It’s always great to see game makers who refuse to rest on their laurels. I spent some time with Ski Safari not too long ago and came away impressed with the 1.0 version of the side-scrolling game. It’s a clever idea—guide a hapless skier down an unending and undulating slope as he tries to stay one step ahead of an avalanche—with a lot of playful touches and chances to rack up some impressive scores. For example, you don’t just rely on skies and gravity to race your way down the hill; you can also hitch a ride on a penguin, an eagle, a wolf, and—in some instances—a yeti to put some distance between you and the onrushing snow. Most impressively, the game is just a lot of fun to play.
So what did app maker Defiant Development do right after I published a review of that initial Ski Safari release? It produced an update for its iOS version that adds a new course where you can try to outski the avalanche, new challenges that allow you to level-up in the game, and a way to turn all those coins you collect along the course into new costumes and power-ups for your skier. As great as Ski Safari was before the update, it’s even better now.
The game is available on Android devices, too, and it’s just as enjoyable to play as on the iPhone or iPad. One caveat: Ski Safari still features only the Penguin Peaks course in its Android iteration and not the Howling Hills offering that iOS gamers can unlock. Even so, Ski Safari is worth a download no matter what platform you’re using or what version’s available to you, for any one of the following reasons.
Simple controls: I’m not sure how the controls in Ski Safari could be simpler, short of anticipating your thoughts. You don’t have to mess with a virtual d-pad or remember which button controls which action. Instead, your skier is in constant motion and all you have to do is tap the screen to make him jump. You’ll be doing that a lot: The mountainside is littered with rocks, ski jumps, and other obstacles that will either knock your skier to the ground or propel him through the air. If the former, tapping the screen frantically gets the skier back on his feet; if the latter, hold down the screen to make him perform bonus-triggering backflips.
In-game challenges: Ski Safari would be enjoyable enough—though not particularly memorable—if it were just a matter of trying to keep your skier from being engulfed in an icy tomb. But the game offers a number of built-in challenges that not only boost your score multiplier, but also help you reach new levels that can give you a leg up at the start of the course. These challenges range from the simple (smash through 20 rocks over a series of games) to the difficult (fly an eagle through a cave without crashing) to targets of random opportunity (while riding a wolf and carrying along a penguin and yeti, crash through a stream and freeze everyone in a block of ice). These mini-challenges keep the game interesting and offer new ways to enjoy Ski Safari when basic gameplay isn’t enough.
Flexible challenges: I dearly love the game Tiny Wings—another endless side-scroller that’s flourished on iOS devices—and it too has in-game challenges that can boost your score multiplier if you pull them off. But Tiny Wings makes you complete a group of three challenges to get that score booster, and if one of them proves a bit too challenging, you’re stuck. I prefer Ski Safari’s approach, in which you knock off challenges one by one to build up your ranking. Finding it too hard to fly that eagle through a cabin without crashing? No problem: Just work on collecting 1000 cloud coins in a single run instead. Once you complete a challenge from the list of three options, a new one takes it place so that, in theory, you’d never have to bother with that one impossible challenge. It certainly keeps Ski Safari from becoming too frustratingly difficult to advance.
In-game currency done right: I’m typically not a fan of games that feature an in-game currency system for a number of reasons—usually, because increasingly app makers are using in-game coins or bucks or whatever to push users to part with real money in order to build up their virtual bankrolls. That’s not the case with Ski Safari, which doesn’t even offer in-app purchases. Instead, its in-game coins are littered liberally around the mountain course, and picking them up nets you bonuses, so they’re very much part of the game and not some tacked-on element. Coins are very easy to collect: Just a few runs down the mountain, and you’ll have built yourself up an impressive nest egg. And if you’re playing the current iOS version of the game, an in-game store lets you turn those coins into power-ups that can boost your performance or new costumes that open up new challenges. It’s a good implementation of in-game currency that I wish other developers would imitate.