Let's set the scene: It is 1:14am on a Thursday morning. I'm working the night shift once again--more specifically, the night section of a series of sixteen hour shifts. Knock out one eight hour shift, eat dinner, begin the other portion. Seeing as these random spurts of work ethic begin on a Sunday, I'm usually dead by Wednesday morning, but I've held out. My eyes look like that of a bloodshot electric orb novelty gift you'd find at Spencer's on clearance, but dammit, I'm still awake and pounding on the keyboard like the good, professional monkey I am.
It's not so much the lack of sleep that's frying my brain as it is the lack of stimulation, so I figure it's a good time for a break. Just got an iPhone last week, so I spent $15 on a few apps here and there--why not try some out to give my brain a rest from office monkey-dom? Mahjong sure is a traditional hoot. CauseWorld's a great invention. Paper Toss, what a nice five minute distraction. So far, so good: little bursts of being distracted by my cell phone. Just what the doctor ordered.
1:27am. I figure I will try one more app, and one that I actually clunked down 99 cents for: Pocket God. Browsed the Paid apps and thought the description looked cute, but without a free trial waiting in the wings, I had to decide: McDonald's "hot" fudge sundae, or Pocket God. Maybe if the fudge was actually hot instead of, you know, frozen. May this be a lesson to you, McDonald's.
From the second I booted the game up, even my taste buds knew I made the proper decision. Pocket God can be many things for the person playing; more than likely, it will be a five to ten minute getaway from all things stressful. The game gives you control over a series of tiny islands where a tribe of indigenous people reside. As their overseer, you get to decide their fate, but no matter what the choice is, it's never pretty... for them, at least.
Fed to sharks. Crushed by boulders. Thrown into the volcano. Speared with a harpoon. Buried alive, and subsequently turned into a zombie. Eaten alive by said zombie. Eaten alive by a gigantic spider. Eaten alive by a gigantic dinosaur. Drowned in the ocean. Swept up in a hurricane. Shook off the face of the Earth in an earthquake. Burned alive via magnifying glass. Scared to death by ghosts. No, these are no Cannibal Corpse lyrics, these are just a fraction of the many ways to kill these poor savage people.
And that's essentially the game: kill off the pygmies in any way you please, and spawn a few more by hitting the plus icon in the upper left of the screen. Well, that's how some folks play the game; when I play, it's not so much as "spawning a few" as it is "pumped out of the sky faster Budweiser bottles through the bottling plant before the Super Bowl."
"Yeah, take that little guy. Oh, you're so cute! I bet you'd look even cuter if you were hit by lightning! BLAM! Off the face of the Earth! Alright, let's get rid of that thunderstorm with a wave of the finger across the sky and... how about we summon a vampire bat to feast on this last guy? Yeeeah, that'll do the trick. Okay, just one more... oops, accidentally knocked him into the water. I better spawn three more just in case I do that again. Swoosh! Hurricane for the big finish! ...but wait, I really should end on a grander finalé than just a tiny hurricane. I mean, I've already murdered twelve of them with that before..."
Wait, what just happened? Did I really burn two hours on an iPhone game? What kind of gamer am I? Was I really looking for an excuse to get away from work to the point that I'd fiddle with a touch-and-play iPhone game for that long? Did I really just want to kill e-people all night to take out revenge for my long hours this week?
It is now 3:45am. Indeed, I did burn two full hours by toying around with new ways to murder the pygmies. Work hours, no less. Hey, I'll gain those hours back in no time tomorrow--those poor saps being crushed by a glacier monster won't ever get those hours back.
The trick with Pocket God is that it does what it sets out to do very well: be the be-all, end-all of time wasters. It's the perfect game to introduce someone leery of cell phone games to the iPhone, as it utilizes the touch screen extremely well, and more importantly, the ability to jump in and out of an important phone call without losing some daunting amount of progress in the game you're enraptured by.
Let's give an example of the touch screen controls: tap the plus icon five times to spawn five more cutesy natives onto the isle. Let's say we want to cause a tsunami to wipe out these guys from their home and take them under the sea. Simply wave your finger across the tide to flood the land, and poof: you're underwater. Place your finger to align several pygmies in a row, then tap the spear gun to shoot the harpoon through the chest of three in a row. Mmm, shish kabob. Hit the bucket of fish to bring out a... shark with a laser on its head? Awesome. Use the motion controls on the iPhone to align the laser to a pygmy, and tap the shoot icon to blast off. Mmm, toasty.
This scenario and scenes like it are the key drawing point to the game, which features regular free updates to add new features and, more importantly, new death traps. The world of Pocket God is certainly one where your imagination and fingers frolick, if you're sadistic enough. Ultimately, Pocket God saves itself from being a bit too brutal by offering such warm visuals; nothing we seem to do to these poor things makes us feel bad, because it just so happens that they look adorable when being launched into a volcano.
For some, this is plenty. I dove into the game for under a buck expecting ten minutes of entertainment, and I certainly got that. Others will see the touch screen as gimmicky, considering the chuckles you'll get from the wit of the developer's ideas is technically the most satisfying part of the title ("Oh man, if I swirl my fingers in circles, it creates a wind funnel!"). Some people will expect a bit more game for their buck, and they'd be justified in that claim, as there's little actual game in Pocket God; the closest thing the game gets to being traditional in its roots is the optional boss battles. To those gamers, I say "Hey, it's a dollar. You're getting something to showcase your iPhone or iPod Touch for 99 cents. Sure, it's not filet mignon, but you can't complain over a T-bone steak for a buck."
Has the iPhone reached the pinnacle of gaming with Pocket God, or become a gaming machine due to it? Of course not. Simply put, we're too far off for the iPhone to become a premiere portable gaming device, but because of games like Pocket God, with its innovative and unique take on the technology, we're one step closer to playing great games on the next generation of cell phones, and as the market is now, Pocket God is the perfect companion piece for the device.
Verdict: A great game to show off what your iPhone or Touch is capable of. You'll catch yourself smiling at the imagination of the two creative minds behind the title with every accidental gameplay discovery. 8/10