Whale Trail review
London interface design studio ustwo has been making apps for some time now, but Whale Trail marks a purposeful stride forward from its previous casual iOS experiments. If there's something a little too calculatedly twee about the developer's cetacean creation – it does come from a man who refers to himself as Chief Wonka, after all – it's no less successful for that.
It owes no small debt to Andreas Illiger's swoop 'em up Tiny Wings, though here your avatar's airborne momentum is gained by gulping down coloured bubbles. The controls, meanwhile, are reversed: holding your finger on the screen makes the whale climb, letting go sees it plummet back towards the sea, and the waiting tentacles of the malevolent squid that forced you to take refuge above the clouds.
Bubbles not only keep your energy meter topped up but gradually increase a score multiplier, though any contact with the grey storm clouds that gather in increasing numbers along the route delivers an electric shock that depletes both. Collect seven coloured stars and you can temporarily sweep them away, as the gentle acoustic theme – from Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys – accelerates accordingly. The song easily withstands repeat plays, ustwo sensibly restricting the Welshman's woozy falsetto vocals to the title and game over screens, though he'll periodically interject when the whale reaches new heights to claim "I can see my house from here".
It's a breezily entertaining flight through seven coloured environments, though it never quite generates the same feeling of mastery as its inspiration: reaching the Violet Zone for the second time isn't as significant an achievement as diving down to the undulating surface of Island 9. Yet this sugary confection can easily inject a dose of fizzy cheer into a wretched day; it's the kind of winningly simple concept from which App Store phenomena are made.