I know what you’re thinking: the App Store is sorely missing games that entertain with an eye towards preserving our planet’s precious natural resources. If that sounds like you, Fencing Flea has created Exhaust Thing: a fast and frenzied “rotate-and-tap” puzzler about the grim future of our ozone layer. Unfortunately, a clever premise and a delightful art style isn’t enough to salvage a game that’s just not all that enjoyable.
Exhaust Thing does not have a story to speak of, but the basic idea behind the game has you defending a shrunken, cartoonish, and entirely suburban version of our globe from a relentless armada of smog clouds. After the clouds rise from the smokestacks and chimneys of the houses below, they come to rest against the bottom of the ozone layer and begin chomping away.
As you might expect from a game called Exhaust Thing, your task is to seeks out the smog and tap it out of existence. Gameplay is a simple matter of rotating the world with a swiped, and tapping on the individual smog clouds to eradicate them. To get a better perspective on the ever-increasing global environmental disaster, zoom out with a vertical swipe down and tap to instantly hop to a hazardous area. As a level progresses, new buildings are built, trees are destroyed, and smog becomes more plentiful; so you have to keep an eye on the big picture.
To keep the gameplay somewhat varied, the designers include a number of smog-destruction tools that are unlocked as you clear the levels. As you get more adept (and collect lots of coins), you can purchase devices that suck up smog with a vacuum, destroy gross polluters with bombs, and even heal the eaten atmosphere. This all sounds good here, but in practice the game has a number of significant problems.
To begin with, gameplay quickly turns monotonous in the early levels. In order to clear a stage, you have to perform the same, repetitive task over and over — “popping” the smog. While the actual mechanics and strategy are not punishingly difficult, the fact that you have to clear in excess of 500 smog clouds on the second level, for example, makes the game more of a tedious endurance event than an entertaining diversion.
There is, of course, a degree of strategy involved with figuring out which smog clusters to attack, how to efficiently leverage your tools at hand, and how to keep your hands moving quickly from smog to smog; but after spending 15 minutes on a level (only to have the environment disintegrate before my eyes) I was not especially interested in jumping back in to do it all over again.
I also can’t overlook the fact that playing this game actually generates a degree of unpleasant physical fatigue. I’m a pretty fit guy who enjoys a long run or bike race, but my wrists and fingers started to seriously hurt thanks to the repetitive motions Exhaust Thing requires. After close to five hours spent just slogging through the first handful of levels, I was about ready to file a worker’s comp claim for carpal tunnel injuries!
All-in-all, Exhaust Thing is not exactly a horrible game. It has lush design elements, a great sense of whimsy, and a number of potentially fun mechanics; but the overall experience of playing Exhaust Thing on the iPad is both tiresome and physically painful. Some players may enjoy the sheer attrition warfare that each level provides, but others will likely throw their devices across the room in frustration. Purchase at your own peril.