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Frantic action games occupy a weird space on iOS, offering right-to-the-point entertainment that's ideal for portable games while often lacking the precise controls such games demand, due to the missing physical buttons. Soul Grinder stands out by doing something uncommon: It offers an experience that not only fits its platform in terms of length and straightforward design, but also by featuring a control scheme that provides just the proper amount of control for an App Store action affair.
Soul Grinder's first level lays out everything you need to know in seconds. You'll slide your finger alongside the left side of the screen to make your hero continuously fire his gun and move up or down. Holding anywhere on the right side moves him in that direction, while releasing sends him back toward the left. It's simple, straightforward, and more effective than almost any other control scheme we've seen in an iOS side-scrolling game that asks you to both move and shoot. Our only gripe is that your thumb can block enemies entering from the left when playing on the smaller screens of the iPhone and iPod touch. That minor issue aside, these two inputs work well, but Soul Grinder leaves it up to its diverse and colorful levels to really make things interesting.
And they do an excellent job of mixing things up. Whether it's introducing new enemies, obstacles, or variations of the two, each level does something different. There's no fluff here: The 24 levels are all worthwhile but don't take long to complete, although countless retries are likely as death comes quickly and often. This never becomes frustrating, as the levels are short enough that any progress lost is insignificant, and levels can be retried immediately. It's just a shame there aren't any leaderboards, as they could have provided a real reason to replay levels beyond collecting coins to purchase new looks for your character.
Soul Grinder is a game that ultimately respects your time. It's easy to learn, retries come quickly, and the levels are both brief and constantly doing new things. It's the rare App Store game that we'd gladly spend money on additional content for, were it available. And what's here for $0.99 – gorgeous 2D graphics, simple controls, and a consistently challenging yet fair campaign – is well worth the tiny admission fee.
The bottom line. A game that knows exactly what it wants to be and executes on it exceptionally well, Soul Grinder offers stimulating fun from beginning to end.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Beautiful graphics. Easy-to-learn and effective controls. Every level is unique and worth playing.
No leaderboard support. On smaller screens, thumbs can block your view of enemies.