Captain Antarctica is the story of a penguin whose wife and kids are kidnapped, leading to his joining forces with a crazy inventor to don a rocket-powered jetpack to allow him to dive deep into the lowest regions of the ocean in order to rescue them. It’s a tale of heroism few can match, but more importantly, it has penguins! Everyone loves penguins, right? We know we sure do!
Which is why it’s such a tragic shame that Captain Antarctica, the game, is so unlikable. Lord knows, we tried to like it. Every possible way we could find to attempt to like it (short of spending a bunch of money on in-app purchases), we tried. But in the end, it was just not to be.
Gameplay is basically about downward descension; after getting a glimpse of your oceanic target, you start at the top of the screen and guide the Captain around obstacles and enemies as he dives ever deeper. However, his rocket pack does not run on good intentions alone; in some fashion which defies both biology and mechanics at once, he must eat fish to help build up an appropriate ramming speed for taking down his foe.
It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this jetpack.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to lose speed and ultimately the stage by taking damage from enemies. The game can be operated by both touch or tilt controls, though both tend to feel sluggish–especially once the game begins throwing all sorts of things your way. There are power-ups to assist you, though their duration and reach are way too short to be especially useful. For example, there’s a magnet which somehow manages to attract fish, but only when you’re already close enough to them that you could probably have just as easily grabbed them yourself.
The game doesn’t start you with much, either; instead, it seems the key to victory is in purchasing items with the coins you get by nabbing fish, a fact punctuated by the considerably large “STORE” button at the bottom center of the screen every time you face defeat. It’s bigger and more prominent than the menu and retry buttons, to be sure, and while this may or may not be the case in other games, it just feels glaringly unsubtle here.
You can purchase more hearts, which makes the way to victory almost feel like a matter of just being able to absorb that which you can’t reasonably dodge. One stage has you wielding a flashlight to see in the murky depths, but they stick you with a piece of junk which not only has a terribly short range, but also flickers out whenever you hit something, leaving you even more vulnerable. The solution? Buy a better flashlight. And if you don’t have enough coins? Then keep playing and keep losing until you have enough. That sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
All the while, we can’t help but think that penguins deserve better than this, and that poor Captain Antarctica’s family deserves a better fate than this.