Normally, when firing up anything that looks even remotely like an endless-runner, there's a certain feeling of dread. These games are everywhere, and they barely even try to differentiate themselves from each other beyond a cosmetic twist. Never have I had that feeling of dread vanish as quickly as it did with Polara.
There's a story of sorts in here: a dystopian future, a tyrannical government, and a high-tech hero who turns their back on the authorities to help the people. It's entirely incidental to what really matters about this game though, and that's the endlessly inventive use of the simplest of gameplay concepts.
Your character possesses a suit which can change color from red to blue and back again with a press of the screen. You automatically run from left to right, and you need to match your suit color to the upcoming threat while also making leaps from platform to platform. Solid red laser beam coming up? Make sure your suit is red so you can leap through it without dying.
At first you deal with fairly basic obstacles: laser beams and static turrets, for example. Before long though, you have to leap through the spraying fire of hovering drones who alternate between red and blue gunfire, or jump through rotating hoops that are half red, half blue. As these elements are combined with every greater intensity you become entirely absorbed within the game's world.
When ramping up the difficulty, Polara does an exceptional job of teasing your expectations, particularly in the story mode where puzzles are fixed and unchanging in their layout. You'll be "trained" to expect alternating colors, then suddenly have a repetition thrown in your face. Color-dependent gravity switches will turn your actions upside down, and if you're color-attuned to a speeding platform, you'll need to be on top of your game to react to the rapidly approaching obstacles. But as well as being generously check-pointed, the game also never cheats you into an unavoidable death, and you'll grin as much at your failures as you will your successes.
Polara won't win any awards for visual fidelity, or indeed audio, but that's OK because it wants your eyes fixed squarely on the fluid puzzle solving action, and that's exactly where you'll need them to be anyway. This is quite simply one of the most absorbing games we've ever played on a mobile phone, and the gameplay rises triumphantly above any cosmetic shortcomings.
Once you've exhausted the main campaign, you can take on the endless mode where you'll need all the knowledge gleaned from the campaign to make a decent dent at the high-score table and unlock even further game modes. The progression system in the game is perfect, and unlike many a running game on the App Store, it challenges and entertains at every stage of a run.
Polara takes a good hard look at the flood of games released in the wake of Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run, and sees them for the lazy cash-ins they invariably are. There's not an upgrade in sight and no in-app cash store, just an honest dollar for an honest game. Better still, you'll be playing Polara long after the freemium me-too runners have had their moment in the spotlight. Buy it today.
What's Hot: Tightly-tuned gameplay, endlessly imaginative use of the core mechanics, and one of the best all-time runners
What's Not: It's not the most visually striking game you'll ever play.