Path-drawing games on the iPhone typically put you in charge of directing planes, boats, and other soulless machines. If you screw up (and you will), well, that’s just one less vehicle for Giant Corporation X. But in Craneballs Studio’s 33rd Division, you’re responsible for the lives of soldiers who can talk, bleed, and die. The humanity of the little dudes, in addition to intense gameplay that alternates between stealth and speed, helps 33rd Division stand out from the path-drawing genre like blood on the snow.
Okay, that’s a little grim. 33rd Division is set on enemy grounds during World War II, so there will be death, but the game’s aesthetics (highlighted by a title screen featuring military personnel in too-big helmets) are pretty lighthearted. As an omniscient General, you’re responsible for shepherding your troops across one of four battlefields crawling with German soldiers. By tracing a line to the safe zone, you help your men past trenches, machine gun nests, barracks, and German Shepherd dogs.
Cones of vision galore.
Each enemy soldier has a line of sight identified by a green ‘cone’ extending from the front of their face. If a good guy gets caught in that cone, he’s immediately gunned down and you lose a life. You can also play 33rd Division in ‘Time Mode,’ which pits you against the clock instead of giving you a set number of lives. Every soldier’s death results in a ten-second loss from your final countdown. Guess what happens when the timer reaches zero.
Fear not, men; there is hope for survival. You can tap a deployed soldier to make him duck out of an enemy’s line of sight (although soldiers accompanied by dogs can still sniff you out). When the enemy looks elsewhere, that’s your cue to get moving again. You gain a point for each soldier you lead to safety. Medics, who move more quickly, will earn you two points. Sergeants lumber across the field to earn you three points. Your men can also collect power-ups to double and triple their score, freeze enemies, and turn invisible for a short time (this is authentic history, here).
One of 33rd Division’s greatest strengths is its adjustable pacing. You can manage one soldier at a time, or you can manage several. In Time Mode, you gain seconds for each man you rescue, so simultaneous deployment is mandatory. However, path-drawing beginners can take their time in Life Mode’” although it may take some hours of gameplay to build up enough of a score to open up new levels. When you achieve a high score worth sharing (or if posting abysmally low scores is your thing), you can do so through OpenFeint.
The graphics are simple: American heroes are in green uniforms, Nazis in grey. The soldiers are necessarily small in comparison to the blasted-out battlefields, though it can sometimes be difficult to guide such tiny things. You may find yourself squinting a bit. Little touches are present, like dogs with furiously wagging tails, and Nazis pausing for a cigarette break (during which you should run like the wind for your goal). The game’s sound is likewise spartan but fun, with marching tunes, soldiers barking ‘Yes, sir!’ in response to your guiding wisdom, and Germans exclaiming, ‘Gott im Himmel!’
33rd Division is definitely worth recruiting if you’re looking for a path-drawing game with a few gameplay twists. It’s easily one of the best of its kind. If nothing else, do it for the good of history.