Anyone who’s played chess probably remembers the first time they learned how the pieces move. On that list is the bishop, which can only move diagonally, but will travel until it collides with another player’s piece. There’s something wonderfully freeing yet restricting about this ages-old mechanic, which has been adapted into a diabolically hard iOS game called Snow Roll. In it, you play a penguin that can only move diagonally as you race down a mountain slope while riding atop a giant snowball. Like Flappy Bird, it’s simple enough that an amoeba could play it, yet requires so much dexterity that you feel accomplished for surviving just 10 seconds.
Like many other endless runners, Snow Roll generates what’s in front of you dynamically. That makes every game different, and keeps you playing round after round. It also means there will be games that kill you in seconds played back to back with ones that make you feel like a golden god.
What’s worth coming back for? Your score goes up one point for each second you stay alive, and there are coins to be earned along the way. The coins are mostly useless, but you can use them to bet on a shell minigame where the reward is...another snowball design. These new designs have no effect on gameplay, but for $3.99 you can buy a ball that earns you coins twice as fast. There are also power-ups you can pick up along the way that let you survive instant death for a brief period of time. All these things are standard fare in endless runners, but they do keep you coming back for more.
Playing again makes the game harder
There are some dangers to playing back to back games, though. Your own crashed snowballs from previous runs become impassable obstacles, making future runs that much more perilous. These seem to disappear after a few games, but the pattern is unpredictable. It also gives you a nice feeling when you dodge them unscathed.
Snow Roll’s creators, Happymagenta, designed the game during a two-day hackathon and were apparently just about to release it when developer Ketchapp came out with a game called ZigZag (iTunes, Google Play) that employed a similar diagonal-movement mechanic. Happymagenta says it decided to go back to the drawing board and add more features, like being able to spend money on prizes, before releasing Snow Roll — and that’s a good thing. Even so, everyone I’ve shown it to appears to have the same initial reaction. “I hate this game without playing it,” said one coworker. “This is horrible,” said another. It’s free to play, though, and worth a run or two into certain oblivion.