Ski Safari for iPhone and iPad

For me, Tiny Wings sets the gold standard for what a casual game should be on the iOS platform. It's simple to control, fun to play, and the in-game mini-challenges you need to conquer in order to level up keep you coming back for more. It's been a long search trying to find a game that gives Tiny Wings a run for its money, but I think Ski Safari from Defiant Development is more than up to the task. In fact, in some ways, it even betters the Tiny Wings experience.

Ski Safari begins with an avalanche that jostles a poor mountain-dweller named Sven out of bed. Fortunately, Sven apparently goes to sleep with skies on, so he's going to try to escape the avalanche by skiing to safety--it's up to you to keep Sven one step ahead of his otherwise icy doom while also navigating the hills, dips, launching pads, and other alpine obstacles thrown up in your way.

Game controls couldn't be more simple: Tapping makes Sven jump, which you need to do a lot to avoid crashing into rocks and cabins. Tapping and holding causes Sven to flip--you get bonuses for successfully completing a backflip (or two). In fact, the game is full of potential bonuses for skiing off the roofs of cabins, skipping over rocks, collecting coins, and even skimming off of clouds; these feats of derring-do not only earn you points, but also boost your multiplier, helping you rack up an even higher score as you progress down the mountain. And if you should happen to wipe out, don't panic: Just tap the screen until Sven is upright again--assuming the onrushing snow doesn't catch up to him first.

Ski Safari also incorporates woodland creatures into the action, as penguins, eagles, and yetis look to avoid the avalanche as well. Zoologists may cringe at the thrown-together fauna, but you'll want to hope on the backs of your feathered and furry friends for a ride down the mountain. Not only will it earn you bonus points and increased multipliers, but it will help put some distance between you and the avalanche.

If that's all that Ski Safari offered, it would be a decent, if somewhat easy-to-forget game. But the app takes a page out of the Tiny Wings playbook by adding mini-challenges within the game that you complete to boost yourself to a new level. (New levels increase the maximum multiplier you can earn and introduce new animals at the start to help put some distance between you and the avalanche.) In the case of Ski Safari, those challenges include everything from collecting a certain number of coins to performing a quadruple backflip to smashing through a set number of distance markers. However, Ski Safari puts its own twist on the mini-challenge setup by letting you complete challenges at your own pace: All you have to do to level up is complete three challenges, for example, and the game doesn't care which ones those are. If you find it too difficult to fly an eagle through a cabin as Sven holds on for dear life--and it is very, very hard--just move on to the other challenges to boost your level. The mini-challenges add to the replayability of the game, while Ski Safari's flexibility with challenges reduces the chances that you'll run into an insurmountable task. As you progress through the game, you'll need to knock off more challenges to move up a level--just another way that Ski Safari keeps you coming back for more.

Ski Safari runs the same on both the iPad and iPhone, though this is one instance where the iPhone's smaller screen space works to its advantage, making the dangers of the avalanche feel more immediate. On the iPad's larger screen, the game feels a little out of place. That's another way of saying that Ski Safari lacks the sort of graphic embellishments you'll find in other iOS games. Then again, it really doesn't need them--this is an App Store offering that flourishes thanks to its outstanding gameplay.

Philip Michaels is the editor of Macworld.com.

This story, "Ski Safari for iPhone and iPad" was originally published by MacCentral.

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