10000000 is ugly. It is aggressively – almost antagonistically – ugly. The sprites are ugly. The app icon is ugly. The easily mistyped name is ugly. This is a game that could do double duty as a scarecrow. But as Mama Faraday often told me, looks aren’t everything.
It might resemble a refugee from the Commodore 64, but 10000000′s retro influence is limited to its homely looks. Behind that facade is very modern game that mashes together two of the most interesting genres of the last years: the puzzle RPG and infinite runner. And it’s damned good.
The goal of 1000000 is to escape a mysterious fantasy castle that you’ve awoken in. I won’t bore you too much with the game’s theme – it’s almost entirely dispensable and the game doesn’t take it too seriously either. The enemies trying to impede your exit, for example, range from ninjas to goblins with a smattering of pygmy tyrannosaurs mixed in. This ain’t Tolkien.
When you’re playing 1000000, the top section of the screen is a side-on view of the castle corridor, presented in the manner made familiar to us by infinite runners like Canabalt. The obstacles you encounter on your run are surmounted by playing a match-3 puzzle game on the rest of the screen: matching swords to make physical attacks, matching keys to unlock doors and chests, and so forth. Resources gathered by matching wood and stone can be put to use in-between runs to upgrade your equipment and build up your character.
If this setup sounds derivative, it’s because it is. Here the game borrows a bit from Dungeon Raid – there it cribs something from Jetpack Joyride. But the way 1000000 brings it all together is fresh and compelling and indeed, feels like nothing I’ve ever played.
That 1000000 manages to be cerebral is quite a feat for a game that is so relentlessly paced. Time is your enemy in 1000000, as the screen is perennially moving to the right. Every second that you spend stopped to fight a monster or unlock a door means that the screen edges a little closer to bumping you off the left side and ending your run. Monsters don’t hurt you, they just push you towards the oblivion that lies to the left of your iPhone bezel. The game moves at such a frantic pace that you’re rarely ever looking at one element for long, and you will have quickly forgotten all about how primitive 1000000 looks.
1000000 is a poster child for modern game design because it embraces failure. Losing isn’t only part of the game – it’s essential. It’s only after you fail a run that you can upgrade your armour to delay enemy attacks or equip an alchemical potion that handicaps one ability to boost another. No 1000000 run lasts more than a minute or two, giving you a chance to catch your breath and break down what you learned on the last run.
That you need to ponder the game’s mechanics is its most retro touch – 1000000 doesn’t tell you much beyond the loading screen hints and leaves you to unravel its nuances over time. This works perfectly with the short play sessions and adds a sense of discovery that I found delightful.
Every time you start a new session your character literally springs out of his bed and lands next to a plaque emblazoned with your high score. Underneath that mark is the eponymous 1000000 – the score you have to achieve on a single run to escape the castle. It looks a bit like those awful motivational posters that were en vogue in the 1990s, and acts as one, too. This is a game with a Protestant work ethic. Accept failure as part of the journey and do a little better every time.
Some players have clearly found the game too mysterious – one of the biggest requests I’ve seen in 1000000′s app reviews is for a tutorial – and there’s no doubt that the controls can be a little persnickety at times. And never in history has there been a game in more dire need of a pause button. I’m also not sure that 1000000 is going to have the replay value of more sedately-paced cousins like Dungeon Raid and Puzzle Quest – it’s fun, but it’s not exactly a great game to relax with. But even if I only spend one playthrough with 1000000, it’ll be a memorable one.
4 out of 5
- iOS Universal: 10000000, $1.99.