The original C64 version of Gridrunner was one of the very first games I bought when I got the machine as a kid and I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since. Downloading the game to my iPad was a complete no-brainer – and it should be for you too.
Gridrunner’s gameplay is inspired by arcade classic Centipede. The action takes place on a grid down which centipede like aliens travel. If you shoot a segment, the bug will split and leave part of itself behind. If a centipede hits such an obstacle, it will turn around and go in the opposite direction, making them tricky to track. If you leave an obstacle for too long, it will gradually evolve and launch a missile at you. As if all that wasn’t enough to occupy your attention, two lasers are at the top and side of the screen. One fires a lethal laser that will kill you instantly; the other litters the grid with more obstacles.
Gridrunner is a lot simpler than that description suggests. There’s no complicated gameplay, just good old-fashioned shooting action. It’s also one of the most fun, addictive games I have ever played this latest incarnation is fantastic. Many developers are pretty cynical when it comes to retro properties. They either keep the name, but release a game that has very little to do with the original property (the new Syndicate is a prime example) or they just release a very lazy port.
Jeff Minter is different. He cares about games and gaming, and it shows He might only have made small changes to the Gridrunner concept, but these genuinely enhance it. The addition of temporary power-ups, for example, acts as a balance against the sheer number of enemies, giving players a fighting chance and a brief respite from the relentless onslaught.
The game mechanics are so perfectly balanced that if you die it’s because of something you did, not because the game did something unfair. It’s a game where practice makes perfect: the more you play, the better you will get and finding the motivation to practice will not be an issue. Gridrunner is so ridiculously addictive that you will resent every single second you have to spend away from it.
Graphics are beautifully simple, recalling the simpler 8 bit days. Aliens are small but nicely detailed and stand out well against the minimal background, making it easy to spot the various hazards. True, when you are fully powered up the screen becomes so busy that it can be hard to see things, but for these few seconds you are almost invincible anyway, so it’s not much of a concern. What’s most impressive is that there is so much activity on screen and absolutely no slow down.
The game’s crowning glory has to be the controls. So many decent iOS games have been ruined due to poor controls and Minter uses all his gaming experience to come up with a system that is perfect for touchscreen devices. Just drag your finger along the screen to move your ship. That’s it. Firing is automatic, so you don’t need to worry about it and this leads to such tight, intuitive and responsive controls that again, you can have no-one to blame but yourself. It’s testament to how good the controls are that I bought the game because it’s meant to be iCade compatible. The native touchscreen controls are so good that I have never even bothered to find out whether this is the case.
There are two very small flies in the ointment. Firstly, as with many Minter games, Gridrunner is very psychedelic, full of flashing images and neon-glow colours. If you don’t like that sort of thing Gridrunner is probably not a game you should play.
The second issue I discovered by accident and caused me to howl in frustration when I did. Although Gridrunner is fully integrated with Apple’s Game Center, you do need to be online at the time you are playing for any scores to register. During one off-line game, I doubled my previous best score. This was saved to my iPad (it displays as the high score) but was never uploaded to the Game Center which continued to display my previous best. Thankfully, I have subsequently gone miles past that score so that little annoyance has been rectified!
So far I’ve focussed purely on the new iOS version of Gridrunner, but for the stupidly cheap price of 79p, you actually get three versions (iOS, C64 original and Vic20 original) as well as two different game modes: Pure (the standard game) and Survival (how long can you last on a single life?). If that’s not value for money, then I don’t know what is.
In true Minter fashion, there’s even a slightly off-beat way of changing modes. Forget all this menu selection malarkey; why not make use of the iPad’s accelerometers? Holding your device in standard portrait mode gives you the new iOS version; turn it to landscape mode one way and it becomes the C64 game; flip it in landscape mode the other way and the Vic20 version appears. Just a simple thing, but one which shows how much care and attention has been paid to the game.
Gridrunner is not just an all-time classic it is, hands down, the best game I have ever played on my iPad. If you love shoot ‘em ups you would have to have the brain of a sheep not to download it. It’s a real pity that Minter appears not to have had a very positive experience developing for iOS devices has since abandoned the platform because Gridrunner shows he’s not lost his touch.
[update 11 April 2015: in a typical act of generosity, Minter has now made Gridrunner available for free forever so now there’s no excuse not to download it]