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App of the Week: Fotonica review

It turns out androids don’t dream of electric sheep — they have nightmares about running into the endless unknown

Fotonica is a running game unlike any other.

Conceptually, it’s essentially Canabalt in first-person — you sprint into the screen, jumping to avoid falling down one of the many holes in the track and plummeting to your doom. But it’s Fotonica’s execution that makes this title something else entirely.

Geometric genius

Visually, the game’s all whirling pin-sharp lines and abstract geometry. There’s a dream-like feel as fragments of real-world objects emerge from the darkness: a fragmented, broken train track in Fotonica’s first level, Brenta; a forest with impossibly sheer terrifying drops in Remolo; and an office block corridor in Palestro, which abruptly vanishes, leaving you stranded above endless darkness, hoping your leap will take you to the relative safety of a painfully distant platform.

Fotonica’s otherworldly nature is further emphasised by the controls, physics and soundtrack. The last of those is a heady mix of urgent, relentless electronica and spaced-out ambient rumblings. The controls are simple: hold the screen to run ever faster and then let go to jump; but your airborne arc is slow — more like floating. And although you can hasten your descent by pressing the screen, Fotonica always feels vaguely hypnotic, like you’re a robot running through its own fever dreams in a kind of dazed stupor, a sense heightened further on reaching top speed; then, the on-screen visuals are bathed in a golden hue while the audio muffles, as if the sound waves can no longer quite reach your ears.

A modern mobile classic

A modern mobile classic

When Fotonica breaks structurally from the likes of Canabalt, it’s most successful. There are eight finite levels to explore and master, finding not only a safe route to the end but also the best path for grabbing floating orbs along the way. The split-screen multiplayer is also a blast, pitching two people in a head-to-head on any of Fotonica’s levels. Only in its endless mode does the game stumble, the first of the three levels being quite dazzling but the other two lacking in imagination and variety, more endurance test than hypnotic masterpiece.

Elsewhere, though, Fotonica does more than enough to ensure its place at the pinnacle of its genre. A slice of Canabalt, a dash of Rez, a smidgeon of Tron, and a hint of Mirror’s Edge — but somehow more than the sum of its parts — Fotonica is an exhilarating, polished modern mobile classic.

Download Fotonica for iPhone or iPad now

Also available on PC

Stuff Says…

Score: 5/5

The pinnacle of stripped-back on-thumb platform games: bewitching, arresting and entertaining

Good Stuff

Absurdly fast and extremely beautiful

Amazing atmosphere through its visuals, controls and music

Varied level design and feel

Bad Stuff

Some endless levels rapidly descend into slightly dull endurance tests