Remember that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest when Orlando Bloom is running and fighting on top of that giant wheel thing? Well, our friends at Two Lives Left have decided to turn that scene into an iPhone game: the aptly titled Wheeler’s Treasure. Touting procedurally generated tracks and plenty of collectibles to unlock, Wheeler’s Treasure is deeper than it initially seems. At its core it is a platformer with some racing elements designed for short bursts.
Wheeler’s Treasure has a deceptive tutorial. It mostly spends its time teaching you how to jump and stomp on enemies with the touch screen and equip items from your menu. Then, at the very end, a giant wheel shows up. The real objective of the game is keep up with the wheel for as long as possible as it rolls through the level. You don’t tilt to move it; instead it rolls automatically. Jumping over and killing enemies helps you keep your momentum but it is hardly the point of the game. This kind of rapid, linear platforming is actually reminiscent of the early Sonic the Hedgehog games.
The game features a PG-rated pirate theme, and along with supplying some adequate artwork and music as well as a few terrible puns (your distance is measured in ‘yaaarrrrds’) it also gives you access to some helpful items. For example, the pirate hook lets you grip onto the wheel for a short period of time and keeps you inside it even while upside down. These items come in chests scattered throughout the level, but taking time to get them can be risky as you still need to keep up with the wheel. Also, there is a limit to how many items you can have equipped at once so there is some strategy involved.
Big wheel a-keep on turnin’.
Something is always trying to get between you and the wheel, whether it’s oil spills, cannonballs, gaps in bridges, or volcanoes. Most of these hazards can be avoided by swiping your finger to jump. It’s a broad movement that works fine for broad actions, but when the game starts throwing dead skeletons and flying crows at you and expects you to jump on their heads, then things can messy.
Even when stationary, jumping directly onto anything is hard in Wheeler’s Treasure. Trying to do it while keeping up with the wheel would be even more frustrating if it were necessary, but luckily most enemies can simply be jumped over. If you do manage to kill a certain number enemies, the game rewards you with bonuses like maps with clues about where to find hidden treasures.
Completing certain distances in Wheeler’s Treasure’s adventure mode unlocks harder challenge rooms, and like the combat, those are also difficult in a way the player can not always overcome. As you get further the game gets faster, giving you little time to react. At this point the only thing the player can do is try to jump over things that look dangerous, use their money to repair the wheel if too many pieces break off, and pray for dear life.
The problem is that at that point, living or dying seems entirely up to chance. There’s no easy way to fix this, but luckily it doesn’t break the game. Actually, the breakneck speed and random chance of survival make the game more funny and fun rather than frustrating. Just know that the people at the top of the OpenFeint leaderboards may be the ones with the most luck rather than the most skill.
Wheeler’s Treasure is a weird little game, and a pirate girl trying to catch a cursed pirate wheel across Caribbean locales is a ridiculous premise. The good thing is that it manages to back that nonsense with clever and original arcade platforming gameplay.