On5 Turns Pop Icons into Lemmings on the iPhone

IPhone developer On5 – the folks behind Charadium – have created an app that takes pop icons and turns them into a game with its latest app, Tiptop: The Last March.

The title is basically a mobile version of the classic game Lemmings. In fact, it is most recently reminiscent of the app Age of Tribes. Basically, players are granted an army of little avatars representative of people like Susan Boyle and Dr. House, as well others such as Will Smith in his Hancock role. Unfortunately, despite what their personas may suggest (or because of what their personas suggest, as the case may be), these little guys walk mindlessly about a terrain reflecting their origin, bouncing off of whatever gets in their way.

Like Lemmings, this also means that they will walk right to their digital deaths, landing on spikes, in poisonous pools, or running into some creative monsters. In order to keep them alive, the player must draw platforms to guide them using their fingers on the touch interface. You can also block paths and create bridges and ramps. Players can even use this method to even rid themselves of equally lemming-like monsters that appear in the game.

In order to balance the game, and add a bit of challenge, players have a set amount of ink that is consumed whenever they draw anything. This does regenerate, but when one has to draw quickly, it becomes very smart to plan ahead. This becomes even more important in later levels. Early ones have many spots where the pop lemmings will walk back and forth safely, but such areas become more and more scarce as the game goes on. Furthermore, lines disappear after a short time, so if you are not careful, they can fade away right beneath your icon’s feet, dropping them into a nice pit of spikes.

Winning each level is a bit frustrating at first, though, as users have to ensure that X amount of icons make it to the end. The controls are a bit awkward initially where the player uses one finger to draw and two to scroll the screen (though eventually you do get used to it). What’s worse is that the game doesn’t always recognize drawn lines very well.

Basically, if you don’t draw a ramp at the proper incline, the characters will merely bounce off of it. If you leave a slight gap — even if it is smaller than the characters — between your line and the ground, they will walk through it. And most obnoxious of all, the game has little jump platforms that send characters skyward and will often cause them to clip through a line you’ve drawn to keep them off a hazard. Even though the line is there, they can get killed. It’s not the end of the game, but it is rather frustrating at times.

Nevertheless, the game is full of personality, and is fun once you get past initial frustrations. It’s quite a kick to see what can kill you too: This includes swine flu pigs with runny noses, the dreaded X from Simon Cowell’s various Got Talent shows, and even those cholesterol filled cheeseburgers we eat too much of. Additionally, some of the levels are equally amusing, especially the black and white levels with a “color crisis” where colors have gone out of business (basically a play on the economy).

Really, the only other weak element to Tiptop is it apparently has a story mode. It’s a bit short and, frankly, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Nevertheless, the game still has a good amount of replay value that stems from strong level design and a scoring system based on time to completion, characters that finish, etc. Moreover, the game is enabled through Ngmoco’s Plus+ platform, thus giving the users a ton of achievements to unlock and show off to other Plus+ friends.

Of course, with Plus+ this means a myriad of leaderboards in which players can compete against each other as well. Unfortunately, these social features are still very basic and when you look at the way that some apps make use of the platforms — i.e. Ngmoco’s GodFinger on the iPad, that actually brings your Facebook or Plus+ friends that play into your universe — it is a bit underwhelming.

In the end, Tiptop: The Last March is a pretty decent game. With its strong level design, Plus+ integration, and simple mechanics, it’s a title with a good deal of longevity. Furthermore, the level of style and personality this app has is fantastic and it really is amusing to see some of the satirical takes On5 has on popular and social culture. Is it the best game we’ve checked out on the iPhone.? No, but for $0.99 it certainly isn’t a bad deal.