Think you had a tough childhood? It’s nothing compared to Cally’s. She could barely pause for breath at any point before her parents would carelessly get kidnapped, forcing her to partake in yet another perilous rescue mission full of leaping and shooting.
Presumably, her folks are now safely locked in a cupboard, because in Cally’s fourth adventure she’s on a different kind of mission. Now the aim is to cure her friend Rupert’s curse, which requires battling a secret society for a magical medallion.
What hasn’t changed is that this pigtailed, pint-sized hero remains armed to the teeth.
If you’ve not had the good fortune to play a Cally’s Caves game before, you’ll nonetheless already know the basics. This is run ’n’ gun territory, albeit with a small girl with a worryingly large arsenal replacing a stereotypical muscle-bound hulk.
She leaps about, shooting anyone – or anything – that gets in her way, and hacks open chests to grab bling. When a level’s suitably empty of loot and life, she seeks out an exit and moves on to the next sprawling level.
From the structure to the chunky pixelated graphics, the game comes across like a love letter to classic console fare. And although there’s the odd slippy screen moment with touchscreen buttons that pepper the display, this outing mostly feels properly tuned to smartphones.
Mostly, this is because Cally’s Caves 4 is a game that rewards patience. Wade in all guns blazing and you can very easily become trapped between deranged footballers overhead kicking you in the chops, chefs lobbing meat cleavers about, and more traditionalist foes with massive guns. (Cally’s Caves 4 is a bit quirky in its take on the world – just go with it.)
If you die, you’re also hurled back to the most recently triggered checkpoint, which might be several hard-fought levels back. Ouch. Hit a particularly tough section you just can’t crack and this nudges the game worryingly close to a Groundhog Day grind; mostly, though, it makes you think a bit, rather than holding down fire and recklessly blazing ahead.
Can you Bera it?
Further smart design decisions are evident throughout. The way the weapons level up is particularly nice, based on how often they’re used to shoot enemies. And Cally get some new moves in the game, being able to auto-fire, and also ‘strafe’ – which means running away while still blasting enemies in the face.
A psychotic ninja bear cub, Bera, makes regular appearances, too. His levels play at a faster tempo than those featuring Cally, which occasionally get bogged down in the durability of her foes. The change of pace is refreshing – and it’s amusing seeing a flurry of paws take out enemies that elsewhere barely flinch on being shot a dozen times.
In all, then, four games in and Cally shows no signs of going stale; and in a gaming world full of gruff heroes, it’s refreshing to see a girl leaping about, blasting everything in sight.
Cally’s Caves 4 is available for iOS. The main game is free, but ad-supported. Additional modes – effectively entirely separate challenges – exist for £3.99 each as IAPs. An Android port is planned for early 2018.