Take Shell-ter In ‘Way Of The Turtle’

Welcome to my new ongoing feature in which I take an in-depth look at what’s new (and just generally fun) on Apple Arcade. Each article will highlight a different game and hopefully give some insight into whether or not it’s worth your time. Happy gaming, and stay safe out there!

You know, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s been a long time since I’ve played a solid, reptile-based game. Turtles in Time on the SNES is probably my favorite. Before that? Frogger, probably. Then you have Gex and Croc. They definitely don’t come around too often.

Enter Way of the Turtle on Apple Arcade, which feels just as old-school as the previously mentioned classics, but is then additionally wrapped in modern graphics and slick production values. It definitely has its flaws, but honestly, this is one seriously good indie adventure.

At its most basic, Way of the Turtle is a 2.5D platformer. In other words, the game is rendered in 3D but essentially plays as a 2D sidescroller. Because assets exist in three dimensions, the camera can do all sorts of interesting cinematic maneuvers. 

If you’re sliding down a hill, the camera swings around behind you. If you’re approaching a giant wall of obstacles, the camera pans back to show you the entire scene. It adds a certain depth to the experience. Plus, I’m just a sucker for 2.5D games. I always loved titles like Klonoa and Pandemonium! on the original PlayStation, and this fits nicely in between these retro gems.

Speaking of the camera, objects in the foreground can, however, get in the way. This sometimes happens to the point of obstructing the view of important jumps or dangerous enemies. I mean, the effect is interesting, but more often than not, it just leads to unnecessary turtle deaths.

Also leading to many unfortunate demises are the default controls, which I really wish were more traditional. As it stands, Way of the Turtle has you directing your shelled hero on a sort of autopilot. Basically, your character (either Mr or Mrs Turtle, your choice) behaves like they’re stuck inside one of those endless runner mobile games. 

You have control over direction, jumping and special moves, but unless you’re pressed up against a wall or using one of the earned abilities, that turtle keeps on moving. It can make for some extremely difficult jumps and maneuvers, often resulting in a weird kind of back and forth shimmying compensation that wouldn’t be necessary in other similar games.

I’m assuming that these controls were implemented with mobile/touchscreen players in mind, which I totally get. And this issue may have been more apparent because I was playing with an Xbox One controller. But I’d have at least preferred an option to switch to traditional platformer controls if I’ve connected a proper controller, as the end result is simply jarring if you’ve been playing these types of games for any length of time.

The gameplay, essentially, is a combination of Bit Trip Runner and the sidescrolling Crash Bandicoot levels. You walk through well-designed stages, flipping switches, collecting coins, grabbing shards, attacking baddies and rescuing gophers…for some reason. Which comes back to my gripe: Way of the Turtle is essentially an endless runner that wasn’t really designed to be an endless runner.  

Throughout your journey, you’ll acquire different shells that grant you new powers. A red shell (Loggerhead) gives you the ability to perform a spin attack.. A blue shell (no, not that blue shell) called Panzerback lets you hunker down in place and stop moving, useful for timed platform puzzles and blocking projectile attacks. You get the idea.

Each of these shells can be upgraded as you make progress, granting even more refined abilities as you finish levels and collect items. There’s also shops (run by the gophers you’re tasked with rescuing) where you can buy upgrades to your life meter and other important trinkets.

On the visual side of things, the graphics are lively and colorful, and are reminiscent of many Dreamcast games. The art style is great too. It adds a lot of personality to the turtles, gophers and enemies. Sort of makes me long for a Way of the Turtle kart racer, because it seems like the courses would code themselves.

As far as originality goes, I wouldn’t say Way of the Turtle is exactly dripping with it. You’ll find a lot of the tried-and-true sidescrolling tropes here, like timed spike walls, moving platforms and infinite collectibles. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The game borrows all these archetypes and builds a clean, fun experience with them.

Would I recommend this game for kids? It’s tempting, given the bright, cheery, G-rated aesthetic. But the steep difficulty makes me think otherwise. And yes, Way of the Turtle is extremely challenging. It’s basically a Mario game on steroids. I love and I hate it, which I find to be a good thing.

The biggest bummer of all? The game isn’t complete. No, really. After you defeat the final lava volcano boss, you get a ‘to be continued’ message. Well then, Illusion Labs, I’ll be patiently waiting for the next set of levels. Let’s hope it’s not too long.

Disclaimer: Apple Arcade subscription provided by Apple for review purposes.

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