I believe this game, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP before it, are the seeds of a new trend of indie games from the “I’ve played Shadow of the Colossus” school of development. This isn’t a bad thing; SotC is one of the most sublime examples of gaming as art. But where Superbrothers was a smorgasbord of inspirations with SotC providing only a subtle influence on the game’s tone, A Ride into the Mountains more blatantly borrows the concept of a guy with a bow and arrow on a horse. It amounts to a title that is gently endearing, but far less of an emotional investment than the other two titles mentioned. Also, the controls are a mess.
A Ride tells a simple story of a guy named Zu who lives alone in a shack. Zu’s family has protected an ancient relic in the mountains for generations, but one day, some sort of shadow comet smashes into it. So Zu grabs his bow and arrow and takes off for the mountain on his horse, fighting funky shadow demon thingies along the way.
The whole game takes place on horseback with Zu’s horse at a constant gallop. Each level introduces one or two new types of enemies and is divided into waves where you face various combinations of these enemies in increasing numbers. The types range from swooping enemies to ones that bounce around to others that shoot arrows of their own.
A Ride does a good job of pacing its difficulty, systematically introducing foes with different strategies needed to beat each. Some must be hit in a specific spot, some have shields you must wait to be lowered, and others explode when shot, taking out other enemies if your timing is right. The final wave of each level is a boss fight that puts the skills you’ve learned to the test. Generally it’s a good system, though there was one level in which the method to take down enemies remained totally unclear to me throughout so I just kept firing arrows wildly until everything died.
A Ride seems to be going for a serene feel with not too heavily detailed pixel graphics and a simplistic soundtrack. Zu and his horse have no facial features and the enemies are black and grey shapes sprinkled with other colors. All seven levels are set in a different nature background with enough details to make each uniquely appealing. Something else that varies up the look is that levels alternate from a side or overhead view. The soundtrack isn’t memorable, but with its simple collections of notes, it certainly complements the calm atmosphere.
Unfortunately, this tranquility is all but decimated by the controls. I usually applaud games for being inventive with the mobile platform, but this is one case in which the developers were too ambitious. You touch and drag, then release to aim and fire arrows. While aiming, you can tap with another finger to initiate “focus,” a feature more commonly known as “bullet time” wherein everything slows down temporarily and a dotted trajectory line appears showing exactly where your arrow will hit. All of this would be fine except that you move by tilting your device left and right in side-view levels and up and down in top-view ones (near the end of the game, you must tilt in all four directions). This titling mechanic makes it difficult to see what’s going on and is just too much to handle along with the aiming system. I frequently forgot to activate focus simply because I was too preoccupied.
The controls feel awkward for the entire game. It’s too bad because otherwise A Ride would be a pleasant, if fleeting, experience. There are a lot of achievements (like completing the game without using focus), which unlock new bows and arrows with different abilities, but I don’t feel compelled to revisit the game to obtain these upgrades. I’m even less inclined when I consider the frustration that comes from clumsily rocking my phone around.
With its pixel graphics, bare bones storyline, and singularly focused gameplay, there’s a placid, arty feel to A Ride into the Mountains. It’s obviously enamored with Shadow of the Colossus, but instead of using it for inspiration, the developers more just copied its mood. This doesn’t make for a bad game; it’s just one unlikely to stick with you following completion. Furthermore, it’s hard to feel much beyond rage when grappling with the convoluted control scheme. But then again, there’s nothing else really like this game on Android and since it only costs a buck, indulging your curiosity is a low-risk gamble.