They say that jogging will help you get fit, but if developers 10ton have their way, it could prove a fatal decision to put on those running shoes. Grim Joggers, their latest title, hands you a team of joggers looking to burn calories by running through a variety of deadly levels around the world. All you need to do is help them jump over the obstacles and keep on running to rack up the score. It sounds simple, but be prepared to witness a lot of dead bodies as you pound the trail.
What's interesting to me is the developer's decision to go with a minimalist control set. All you have to do is tap the screen, and anywhere on the screen at that (although it would be nice if E7 owners could use the keyboard as well). That tap will tell your joggers to "jump" and if they are already in the air from a previous jump then they'll do a double jump for extra height and distance - or you can hold the screen-press down for a bigger initial jump.
So you might have one control, but there is a finesse to using it in the game, and that's important. One button games have been around for a long time, but only a few of them manage to capture the imagination sufficiently that you want to keep playing. I'm glad to say that Grim Joggers is one of those games.
A big part of that is because it is Joggers, plural. There are a number of iterations of the "endless running and jumping over obstacles" genre, each one looking for a little twist, be it in the graphics, the speed, or the terrain which is randomly generated each time you play. Grim Joggers' key selling point is that you are not looking after just one runner, but in this case fifteen runners. Keeping them all alive as they jump in sequence is going to be a big challenge as you progress through each level.
You can either play to keep the group together and alive, or treat them as "extra lives" for your leading jogger, focussing on vaulting him over the various obstacles so you can keep on running. With a variety of hazards, including spikes, venus fly traps, quicksand and pits of fire, on the path in front of you, you're going to need to time not just when you start to jump, but also think about where you are going to land - the last thing you need is to jump so close to one obstacle that you unavoidably land in the second.
Then there are the cliff faces.
Grim Joggers doesn't restrict itself to a running track or a nice field - you're going to be jumping from different levels, choosing to run along high or low paths, making your best guess as to which is the safer path for your runners, and making sure that when you do jump over the potholes, you're able to jump and reach the other side. If you miss, and hit the vertical wall, then you have to say bye-bye to every jogger as they slide, Wile E Coyote style, down off the screen, and end the game.
Adding a touch of strategy to the game, sometimes the right move is to sacrifice a jogger to save more of them with a well timed jump, rather than attempting to get everybody over a gap. Spotting those decision points with enough time to react is the key to gaining a high score, because the increasing bonus you can earn is determined in part by how many joggers are still running. I'll award some extra credit to the developers for having the game scored in calories burned.
There's a lovely cartoon feel to the graphics on show here, feeling very much like the 16-bit platform era - and with the game requiring the full screen to scroll at varying speeds (the further you get into the game the faster your joggers can move, and the more pixels need 'throwing' towards the left of the screen). The graphics chip on the latest Symbian devices shows some solid gaming muscle and keeps everything smooth and fast.
When you die, the cute graphics mean that the horrible fate that awaits your running mates is still on-screen, but is more on the level of a kids cartoon rather than pixel perfect imagery. If you've had a good run, then you might win one of the many achievement badges that are on offer. These are important, because when you start, only the first level - Jungle Workout - is available to play. You'll need to collect the achievements to open the four extra levels, including Mine Muscle Trainer and Glacier Calorie Burn.
I also liked the touch of the statistics screen with such numbers as "how many joggers burned to ashes or drowned in quicksand" alongside more traditional measurements such as highest score and longest timed run.
Grim Joggers is a well programmed game, and even when the speed increases the further into the game you go, the graphics remain clear with little blurring. The controls stay reactive no matter how busy the game area is, and be it through points scoring, statistics, badges earned or levels unlocked there's something to keep you coming back for another run. It's great fun - far more than actual jogging is!