Ski Safari: A Fast-Paced Endless Runner

I’ve never been a great skier or snowboarder. The last time I hit the slopes I spent most of the time on the ground trying awkwardly to get back up. The closest I’ll ever come to a black diamond is in a game, and Ski Safari let me fly down the mountain with style.

Ski Safari, from Defiant Development, is an endless runner (“endless skier” would be more appropriate), with a very straightforward premise. You are rudely awakened from your sleep by being flung out of your cabin and forced to outrun the avalanche that is following you. What happens next is where the fun begins. 

The Basics

Ski Safari shares many similarities with Jetpack Joyride, a very popular game released last year. You won’t ever “win” as the side-scrolling layout never ends. Instead, you have to navigate down the mountain and keep your speed up to avoid being engulfed by the avalanche.

The welcome screen for Ski Safari.

The welcome screen for Ski Safari.

You will, inevitably, lose. However, what makes the game fun are the goals that you try to complete in each run. As you complete more of these missions you are promoted to higher ranks. Integration with Game Center lets you see how you stack up with your friends.

Gameplay

The controls are extremely simple in this game, and it doesn’t use the iPhone’s accelerometer or any complex finger combos. The first time you fire up the game you’ll see a few slides that help orient you with the controls. You simply need one finger to tap anywhere on the screen. You tap to jump, hold while in the air to perform a flip, tap quickly while in the air to glide or on the ground to speed up.

A short tutorial runs the first time you play the game to explain the simple controls.

A short tutorial runs the first time you play the game to explain the simple controls.

Many of the challenges that you’re given involve interacting with the other stuff that you’ll find along your route. These include creatures like penguins and yetis, and items like rocks and cabins. You can ride the animals, such as the penguins (it sounds cruel, I know, but they don’t seem to mind) to help you go faster, and the challenges often ask you to ride a certain number of them in a given run. Like Jetpack Joyride, the challenges all vary widely, and you are given a crack at three at any given time.

Hitting a rock doesn't mean the end of the game, and I liked that.

Hitting a rock doesn't mean the end of the game, and I liked that.

Rocks are the most prominent obstacle that you’ll have to maneuver around, but hitting one doesn’t necessarily spell the end of your run. You’ll get knocked down and the avalanche will get closer to you. Hit enough rocks and that snow will catch up and end your game. In this sense, Ski Safari is a bit like Temple Run with those creatures that are chasing you, but only catch you if you get slowed down enough times.

As you complete challenges, you'll be promoted to higher ranks.

As you complete challenges, you'll be promoted to higher ranks.

The most satisfying part of the game are the jumps. It’s tempting to try and do backflips each time you catch air, but you need to be careful not to crash and slow yourself down.

Graphics

I’ve mentioned the similarities between Ski Safari and Jetpack Joyride, but one area where the games differ is in their speeds. Jetpack Joyride starts slow and accelerates as you progress. Ski Safari seems to be much faster throughout each entire run. I mention this because the speed at which the whole game scrolls past makes it difficult to really notice the graphics.

The graphics on Ski Safari are average, but you'll be moving too fast to notice.

The graphics on Ski Safari are average, but you'll be moving too fast to notice.

While you are playing, the backgrounds are all flying by, but the general impact of the visuals is alright. After taking screenshots of the game and looking at them, its clear that the developers paid close attention to detail on the main character, as well as the penguins and yetis, but skimmed over most of the backgrounds. Again, due to the speed of the game, you won’t really notice that.

iOS games typically don’t blow you away with their music, and Ski Safari is no different. However, unlike many other games, it isn’t so annoying that I ever felt compelled to mute it.

Criticisms

What I always found frustrating with Jetpack Joyride was having to start off each run moving way too slowly. Ski Safari definitely moves faster, thus eliminating that boring period. However, the speed also takes away from some of the fun. It becomes more a matter of just reacting to what you are seeing than it is to thinking about what your challenge is and actively seeking to accomplish it.

You can combine those penguins and yetis with other items, such as snowmobiles.

You can combine those penguins and yetis with other items, such as snowmobiles.

There are all kinds of combos that you can get along the way, such as riding a penguin and a yeti while at the same time driving a snowmobile. Its certainly funny to look at, but all of the bonus stuff seems to happen accidentally rather than as the result of your brilliant moves.

The Verdict

Nothing about Ski Safari is radically different from other endless runner games available for the iPhone. This game takes a proven forumla — an endless runner with challenges that accrue to earn you higher ranks — and builds it into a new setting. Ski Safari can get pretty repetitive after a few plays once you’ve discovered all that there is to find, but that can be said of any game of this genre. However, the simplistic nature of the controls also make it slightly less engaging than Jetpack Joyride, because in that game you are flying up and down rather than just hopping over obstacles.

What I think sets Ski Safari apart from similar games is the longer playing time for each run. In Ski Safari, you can hit a rock, and it slows you down but doesn’t mean you’re done with that run. You are going fast right out of the gate, which means when you do start a new run, you don’t have to sit through an unchallenging minute or two. At $0.99 cents, Ski Safari is definitely worth a download. It might not be a game that you’ll spend months playing, but it is a satisfying game while it’s new.


Summary

A fun, though slightly repetitive, endless runner game with easy controls and good graphics.

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