Helix is one of those games that smashes old into new with exciting results.
On first launching the game, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d somehow been catapulted back to 1982, given that Helix is full of oddball pixelated characters coloured in searing neon.
But the controls are straight out of touchscreen heaven, making for a modern-day arcade classic that manages to rub shoulders with ancient (but still brilliant) titles that surely influenced it.
An old school slice of gaming
The basics of Helix are survival and destruction, in that the destruction of your enemies ensures your survival. Given that Helix is very much positioned as an old-school slice of gaming, said survival doesn’t tend to last very long, not least in your initial goes where you grapple with the game’s interesting mechanic.
You see, in Helix, you’re unarmed. Despite being trapped in a confined space, while somewhat geometric beasties that are deadly to the touch roam about or home in on your position, you’ve not got so much as a digital sausage to fling at them; instead, you must encircle your enemies, to make them explode.
The pace of Helix is such that you’ll probably be dead before you manage to obliterate a single foe on your first go, but deft thumb-work and steely concentration enables anyone determined to persevere a kind of staccato progression. You’ll almost hurl your iPhone at the wall after a string of single-digit scoring sprints, before clocking the behaviours of newly encountered enemies, and figuring out how to beat them.
You are a gaming god
Before long, you’ll be scoring in the — well, let’s not get too cocky — dozens of points. Much like Super Hexagon makes you feel like a champ when you cling on inside its kaleidoscopic rollercoaster whirlpool for an entire minute, 50 or 60 points in Helix has you believe yourself to be a gaming god.
Naturally, Helix then slaps you down to size. Survive long enough and you enter the aptly named Terror Mode and then Vortex, one of the few modes in any game where a regular score close to zero isn’t so much an embarrassment as a certainty.
What ensures Helix stands out isn’t its brutal nature, though — it’s everything. It lacks artistry, but every annihilated monster’s pixels are scattered across the screen, wheeling into oblivion much like classic arcade title Defender’s aliens being sucked down a space plughole. The soundtrack has a sense of urgency that propels you on. And the controls are pitched perfectly, enabling you to control your weird-looking hero via 1:1 drags anywhere on the display, or flick to more rapidly zoom along when the situation calls for it.
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It might sound like hyperbole to suggest Helix resembles what we imagine a modern-day Eugene Jarvis creation would be like if the Defender and Robotron developer went back to his roots, but it’s no exaggeration when that happens to be true.
In short, Helix is one of the very best arcade titles on iOS, and it deserves to be played by many, many people.