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We tend not to see that many pessimistic video game protagonists; after all, who wants to force a bummed-out plumber from platform to platform? Still, I have to admit that there’s a certain gloomy charm to the sulky star of Moon Active’s debut app, Bitter Sam. Kidnapped by a mad scientist, slung from a feeble slack line, and lowered into a series of treacherous corridors, Sam has several reasons for the sad scowl that’s been scrawled across his mug. It’s up to you to guide the depressive test subject as he dangles deeper and deeper through each stage, snatching up shimmering crystals and hoping that his line doesn’t snap, get snipped, or snag on passing dangers.
Bitter Sam’s gameplay is incredibly simple: you'll tilt your device to thread Sam through obstacles, swing him into any power-ups along the way, and dangle him down to the end of each stage with minimal incidental damage. Obstacles and power-ups increase in difficulty and novelty as the game progresses -- I found the ultra-fast falling anvils just as useful as the sacrificial pigs that Sam can pad impending impacts with -- and a handy progress bar shows you how much farther is left until each stage's end. It’s easy to jump right into, and ideal for short play sessions.
But Bitter Sam’s simplicity is something of a double-edged sword. Sure, there are some genuine stumpers in the app’s 100 levels (with more promised in future updates), but lackadaisically tilting from left, to right, to left again can become repetitive rather quickly. Like many of the App Store’s one-touch (or no-touch) titles, Bitter Sam eventually boils down to an exercise in level memorization and trial and error, with a bit of frustrating “precision tilting” thrown in for good measure. But it isn’t enough to sour the entire experience; there’s still plenty here to charm most fans of physics-based puzzlers, and it’s well worth the bargain-basement asking price.
The bottom line. Bitter Sam is a cute and well-crafted app that’s fittingly priced at $0.99, but it probably won’t keep you coming back for repeat playthroughs.
iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone running iOS 3.2 or later
Cute art style. Simple tile-based control scheme. Bite-sized levels are ideal for short play sessions.
Gameplay can become repetitive a bit too quickly. Not much replay value. "Precision tilting" can be way frustrating.