Controls are always the sticking point when it comes to mobile platformers. It doesn’t matter how good on-screen buttons are, they’re never going to match what real buttons on a controller can offer. Which is why it’s always nice to see a game like Alabama Bones that does things a bit differently.
You’re not fiddling around with small buttons here – instead you’re tapping the whole screen. Sure, that might make the game sound a lot like an auto-runner – which it is – but there’s a decent amount of platforming intelligence on show here that makes it stand out from the rest.
Calling Dr. Bones
The levels you’re working your way through are scattered with different action icons – they flash white when you’re close enough to use them. Tap the screen while they’re doing that and you’ll perform the action.
That might be a jump, a swing, or a duck. It might stop you in your tracks, or pull a switch to clear a path ahead of you. But there’s more going on than poking the screen at the right time – the direction you’re heading is super important too.
There are three idols to collect on each level, but you don’t need to grab them all to move on. You’ll unlock the next challenge by picking up the key and getting to the exit without dying. Sometimes that’s pretty easy, but sometimes it’s incredibly tough.
The game layers its tasks really smartly. You’ll learn what some of the action icons do in stages where you’re not in much danger, which means when the going gets tough you already know what you have to do.
Things aren’t as simple as all that though – there are action icons that will kill you if you use them at the wrong time, sitting like red herrings to slip you up. There are moments when your taps need to be super fast, and others where taking your time is the only way to get to the end.
Alabama Bones is clever in its design – playing around with platforming tropes to make you think in different ways, and giving you risky options for the biggest rewards. It can be frustrating, and if you’re settling in for a long play session there’s a good chance you’re going to get a bit tired of the repetitive nature of the experience.
Alabama is the dog’s name
Look too long at the game, then, and the cracks do start to show. For all of its extra ideas, Alabama Bones is very much an short-burst arcade experience, and if you play it in any other way than that you’re going to lose sight of what makes it special.
In five minute bursts though, there’s something painfully compelling about the game. This is the perfect platformer for the bus home or those toilet breaks you keep having at work (yeah, we know what you’re doing). Don’t expect anything more than that, and you’re going to have a lovely time with Alabama Bones.