Minigame collections don’t get a whole lot of love in the gaming world, and often for good reason: they’re usually dull, flavorless, and hastily assembled. But the poor reputation of the minigame genre is part of what makes The Hacker for the iOS a pleasant surprise. It’s a clever puzzle collection that demonstrates that a good story and unique presentation can be enough to inject new life into a seemingly tired idea.
In The Hacker, you’re cast as a former employee for a software company called GliderCorp. You’re fired shortly after developing a new OS for the company, and you (along with a handful of anonymous developers who were likewise booted) want to find out why. It seems that GliderCorp is up to something devilish, and their new OS is central to their plan– but what, exactly, is going on?
With the help of your new anonymous friends, you begin hacking into GliderCorp’s eight worldwide servers to uncover some answers. “Hacking” in The Hacker isn’t the real deal, obviously. You gain access to GliderCorp’s servers by completing several minigames. Some of these include a complex version of “Memory,” a cyber-version of the classic “Pipe Dream,” and a particularly interesting game that requires you to place “nanobugs” on corresponding ports simultaneously. Given that the bugs all move on a single command, this is harder than it sounds.
If you clear a game, you earn experience points. You can earn experience points to unlock games, buy wallpapers, and “buy” your way through any particularly frustrating hacking puzzles. In fact, you may want to save up your experience points, because as The Hacker progresses, its puzzles become pretty mind-bending.
No matter how frustrated you get, however, you’ll find that you won’t be able to put The Hacker down easily. If you grew up with the Apple II or the Commodore 64, you’ll find the game’s glowing green interface (complete with ASCII artwork) as familiar as your own bed. The game’s story is also interesting, even if it’s not exactly a Tom Clancy novel. There are a lot of spelling errors, for instance, but to be fair, they add a kind of authenticity to the story: hackers aren’t celebrated for their careful attention to proper grammar.
The Hacker has a couple more shortcomings. First, it can get repetitive to play the same hacking games over and over, often several times on a single server. The games are challenging and well put-together, but a little more variety would have been welcome. Second, the controls feel sticky at times, and run the risk of screwing you up at crucial moments. For instance, when you tap on a wire to flip it during the Pipe Dream-style game, the response isn’t always as quick as you’d like.
But The Hacker mainly exists to present a new and interesting take on the crusty minigame genre, and it pretty much succeeds. Again, though, don’t expect to be doing any real hacking. That’d be kind of like dialing the Flintstone Phone and expecting a deep and meaningful conversation with Fred.