In Space Monkey, you control a junk-collecting simian tasked with clearing the galaxy of garbage. You must rotate the floating, spread-eagled chimp to grab–or avoid–the variety of items flying towards him from all sides of the screen. Glu riffs endlessly on this simple game mechanic by adding point-scoring combo systems, as well as a huge variety of junk items, each with different characteristics. There’s plenty of fun to be found in Space Monkey, as long as you’re not put off by games that require a fair amount of practice.
When you first start Space Monkey, you may be confused by the fact that your monkey is basically a wagon wheel pinned to the middle of the screen. The monkey grabs passing junk with his hands and feet, and you control his orientation by rotating him with the iPhone’s touch screen; if a piece of junk isn’t lined up with the monkey’s hands or feet, most of it will fly right off the screen to no effect. You score points by catching safe junk, but if you accidentally catch hazardous junk, you’ll lose health. If you run out of health or fail to score enough points over the course of a level, the poor little guy has to restart it.
You can also perform a super spin by drawing a quick diagonal stroke across the screen. This is effective for deflecting junk back off the screen, but can only be used for a short time before the monkey gets sick and loses health.
Space Monkey manages the awesome feat of adding a new wrinkle to this basic gameplay in most its fifty levels. For instance, some junk, like bowling pins and stinky socks, can only be caught with either your hands or your feet. Certain other bits of detritus, like juggling balls, constantly give you points until you try to catch something else with that limb. Conversely, various kinds of hazardous junk need to be dodged, deflected away by spinning, or tapped on to detonate. The later levels are only passable by catching lots of items in a row with the same limb, thereby racking up combo points, while holding bonus items as long as possible. There are also a few other instances where the iPhone or iTouch can be shaken or tilted to trigger an effect, but these are rare.
As if all of that weren’t enough, a boss appears every 5 levels or so. These boss fights are a nice change of pace, but they’re usually pretty shallow; passing them is mostly a matter of memorizing simple attack patterns.
Space Monkey’s presentation is fairly attractive. The character design, art and sound have a cute (if not very original) 50s Sci-Fi esthetic; the space monkey himself also has a lot personality, thanks to abundant animation. The game also features a handful of great-looking cartoon cutscenes to enliven the proceedings, although they are reused frequently.
Controlling the game adequately takes a lot of practice. We found that it took some practice to be able to touch with the precision necessary to rotate the monkey properly at first. The super spin maneuver is especially frustrating, because the game simply doesn’t sense it very well. Unfortunately, the spin is not only a very important move, but also one that needs to be timed just right to be useful. In fact, in some of the later levels one missed spin can ruin the entire level by breaking an important combo.
Furthermore, Space Monkey’s difficulty as a whole isn’t especially well balanced. For example, we made it about halfway through the game only failing a level once or twice. Then we suddenly ran into a minefield, and it started taking us ten or more tries to pass certain levels. Generally speaking, the first half of the game is junior varsity, while the second half is set at a punishing difficulty level.
To summarize, we were impressed by Space Monkey’s ability to continually pull new tricks out of its bag, and we enjoyed our time with the game. That said, be aware that it takes some patience to get a handle on the game’s controls, and that you will probably have to replay the later levels many times before you crack them. Space Monkey isn’t a particularly casual title, but if you’re willing to invest some time in it, you’ll be rewarded.