The hookshot - the mythical do-all superweapon from Zelda - is not the only thing that Tobe lifts from the pages of gaming history. There are spiny turtles straight from Super Mario, and a star powerup which was last seen carrying a pink puffball through Dream Land.
Hookshot Escape wears its influences on its sleeve, then, but its debt to retro gaming runs far deeper than a few borrowed props. The game might dabble in the garden of modern casual fare like Temple Run - with its virtual currency and end-of-level "Tweet this score?" button - but it's unapologetically retro at its core.
It's got that surgically precise gameplay of yore, and the brutally tough learning curve that so often comes with it. In the game, Tobe must climb up an infinitely tall mountain of bricks, blocks, chests and enemies by leaping up and using his borrowed hookshot to snag overhead platforms.
The mop-top's grapple doesn't reach anywhere near as far as Link's, so part of the game's challenge is scrambling to the highest part of the current plane, and timing your button taps so you unleash your hook at the absolute peak of your jump.
The game's physics might seem twitchy and unforgiving at first, but you'll soon ease into them and appreciate the precision they allow. Once you get the hang of controlling Tobe, Hookshot Escape has a delightful cadence, and offers a real acrobatic thrill full of daring leaps, last-minute grabs and pixel-perfect landings. Add in a combo system, where you earn more cash if you make grapples in quick succession, and your runs turn from an apprehensive scramble to a free-flowing ascent.
Not that the controls are entirely perfect, of course. Virtual controls never are, but in Tobe a misread tap or a fumbled press can easily mean the difference between life and Game Over. I do, however, like that even the way you handle the device is a nod to past gaming experiences, with two thumbs nestled beneath the screen like a tiny Game Boy.
There are plenty of doo-dads and what-nots to unlock. First up, there are three other characters that ditch the hookshot entirely, radically changing the way the game feels. One can double jump and smash holes in platforms with a hammer. Another uses the Dragon Punch from Street Fighter to give him a mid-air boost. Tobe works best, and is the most fun to control, though.
Then there are bits of equipment that let you carry more power-ups, or reduce the distance you fly when hit by an enemy. You earn these by completing little achievements, which give you supplementary goals, above simply out-scoring your friends. Plus, there are new themes to unlock and - if you're into that sort of thing - new equipment to buy with real world currency.
Tobe offers a pleasing mix of old and new. It's an endless runner with all the addiction of a Doodle Jump, but it has a sharp, decidedly retro twist that makes it more than just a fluffy, throwaway time-waster. This is a rich game where high scores are only offered to those who truly master its mechanics.
Version Tested: iPhone
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- Delicious retro style
- Demanding mechanic makes high scores truly satisfying
- Loads of goodies to unlock and experiment with
- Unreliable controls mean death isn't always your fault