Bit Pilot is an anomaly in conceptual artist Zach Gage’s ever-widening iOS portfolio, being reliant on comparatively traditional mechanics, albeit expressed in a less orthodox manner. Ostensibly a touchscreen take on arcade standard Asteroids, Gage’s latest is distinctive not by virtue of its systems or its appealingly rudimentary 8-bit aesthetic, but by its control scheme.
It’s a gesture-based system, conveyed via a pleasingly brisk demonstration with pixel-art thumbs. A single digit steers your craft but allows limited movement, while a second affords you greater speed and, once mastered, sharper manoeuvrability. The results are uncommonly nuanced and tactile, though perhaps that’s no surprise given its creator’s keen interest in digital sculpture.
Your craft is unarmed against this cosmic bombardment, though floating capsules can be collected to provide a protective barrier, at the cost of making you a larger target. Some rocks expand and contract as they speed by, while laser beams sporadically blaze a deadly path across the field of play, the thin line that announces their imminent arrival precipitating a panicked thrust away from danger. The sole objective is survival, or rather to postpone death long enough to earn a high score.
It’s a simple idea buttressed by several game types. Easy difficulty is deceptively challenging, though its title seems truer once you try Normal. Tunnels mode provides the most rigorous test of those controls, forcing you to negotiate increasingly narrow spaces between enormous asteroids. Meanwhile, Supermassive pulls the camera back, placing you in a field dense with small but fast-moving rocks.
Cumulative score targets unlock new background music from chiptune composer Sabrepulse, followed by additional wallpapers, but these are fairly flimsy motivators to continue. Besides, Gage’s sharp retooling of timeless systems means that simply playing Bit Pilot is reward enough.