Hard Lines Review

Do you remember squinting at “Snake,” the black-and-white ancestor of smartphone games? Sure you do. The question is, would you ever want to go back to pecking at the number pad of your Nokia cellphone? Well, the original Snake was good, but maybe not good enough for you to bother digging up your old charger. Luckily, Spilt Milk has conjured up Hard Lines for the iOS, a sharp-looking tribute to Snake that goes light years beyond its source material.

In Hard Lines, you take control of Lionel (yes, he has a name) and engage in one of seven game modes. All the game modes are basically different takes on the same concept: Eat the glowy power-ups that appear on the game grid, and kill the rival lines that try and encroach on your territory (kill ‘em all! Grrr!). You can even play a hipper, slicker version of classic Snake.

As you eat power-ups, you earn more points. The higher your score, the better for planet Earth. If you run into another line, you die. If you run into yourself or a wall, you die. If, however, you cause another line to run into you, you kill that line and presumably eat its thin little heart. It lends you a primitive thrill to hunt down and eliminate other lines, especially since some of the modes in Hard Lines (like “Gauntlet”) often throw a dozen lines on the screen at once.

Line hard or go home.

One of Hard Lines’ most pleasant surprises is getting your choice of three controls schemes–and they all work magnificently well. No matter which scheme you’re most comfortable with, Lionel whips and turns on a dime. If you die (and, well, you will), sloppy controls are never to blame. It’s a refreshing change, given that poor controls are still the number one problem plaguing iOS games.

Hard Lines’ music and visuals are also a lock: Both are obvious tributes to Namco-Bandai’s Pac-Man Championship Edition. If classic gaming is timelessly cool, it’s made even cooler with the addition of thudding music, pulsating walls, and neon highlights. There are times when the iPhone screen feels way too small for the game’s action; dishing out for the iPad version might not be the worst idea.

But you can’t simply paint an old classic and call it a day. Hard Lines also boasts some pretty funny dialogue, most of which bursts forth from your rival lines who swear revenge for the mothers, fathers, and sisters you have slaughtered. There are even timely Portal 2 jokes, which is impressive and worrying: Please, Internet, do not run Portal 2 jokes into the ground like so many slices of cake.

Hard Lines is a pretty easy sell. If you enjoy the nostalgic simplicity of Snake–and if you don’t, what is your problem, child–Hard Lines is better, faster, stronger. Also, it’s neon.

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