Mobile games can often be hit or miss. Being a space that’s heavily focused on advertisements and microtransactions, it can be easy for developers to fall into the same holes and pitfalls that others before them have. Phillip Pounds’ attempt to bring attention to the on-going threat to turtles with a cute mobile game succeeds in some instances but ultimately falls into a few mobile pitfalls that have plagued developers for years.
Writer's note: I decided to review Save the Turtles! after Phillip Pounds reached out to the staff here at Shacknews concerning his game. While it isn't a major release by any means, myself and others felt that it was only fair that we take a look at his work and provide an honest critique. Save the Turtles! isn't the greatest mobile game you'll ever play, but it is a nice attempt by a budding developer, and we wanted to showcase that here on Shacknews.
Taking out the trash
The main point of Save the Turtles! is to collect pieces of trash that are floating around several groups of turtles. The game is your standard mobile autoscroller with retro-inspired graphics. The music and graphics, all created by the developer, feel unique enough to create a solid experience throughout, and it’s easy to tell the trash from the turtles that you need to avoid. Overall the game plays well, but there are a few hiccups that you’ll run into along the way.
As you collect trash, you’ll be rewarded with points. When you hit certain marks or scores, a helper will appear and clean up all the trash that is on the screen at that exact moment. This is a nice little incentive, however, each time it happens the game skips, and the screen appears to reset. This makes for a very jarring transition. It’s something that’s hard to overlook as you play, especially as you get into more and more difficult instances.
Aside from this helper, there aren’t any other types of rewards for hitting score marks. This is fine for a simple mobile game like Save the Turtles!, but additional upgrades and rewards could definitely give users something more to work towards. As it stands right now, there’s no real end-game goal or level unlocks to worry about.
Blast from the past
The entirety of Save the Turtles! visual and audio design is based upon older 16-bit games, and it definitely shows. Pounds has done a good job with the visual design. Trash and turtles look distinct against the backdrop of the water, and all around it works well to distinguish the difference between the two at all times.
The text design does leave a bit to be desired and can be a bit difficult to read at times thanks to the way that it blends with the background. Some kind of stroke or bolding around the words could really have helped to distinguish the difference between the text and the moving background on the menu. It’s a small issue. One that can definitely be overlooked thanks to the menu’s simplistic design. The menu itself is easy to navigate as it is only composed of the play button, as well as several social media options, and a link to an article that describes how you can help save the turtles in the real world.
All around the menu and design is well focused and helps to give off that retro-inspired vibe that the developer was no doubt going for.
Troubled waters await
Despite the simplistic design and goals, Save the Turtles! takes quite a few missteps. The game itself is littered with advertisements and the overall performance leaves a lot to be desired. I tested the game on both a Google Pixel 3A and a Samsung S9+, both of which should have been more than powerful enough to run the game without any issues.
During my few hours trying it out, Save the Turtles! suffered from some pretty rough lag at times, with the screen often becoming unresponsive while the game worked to load up another advertisement—something that you’ll see a lot of as you play through Save the Turtles!.
Each time that you fail, an advertisement will play. I'm not just talking about picture ads, either. Save the Turtles! has plenty of full-on audio and video advertisements that you can’t skip for at least 5-10 seconds at times. It’s a jarring experience that pulls you from the game, and considering how easy it can be to fail, you can often find yourself rolling through multiple ads in quick succession. This is a big issue we’ve seen in mobile games for several years now, and one that indie developers like Pounds should definitely be aware and more mindful of in the future. Not only can advertisements bog down the performance of the app, but it can also drive off new players as they aren’t able to experience your game without feeling overwhelmed by the number of ads being thrown at them.
Learning and moving forward
Without the ads, Save the Turtles! is a cute little experience that could be a good time-waster for a while. There isn’t any lasting stay here, though, which means you’ll be moving on to another game before too long. While time wasters like this have become a mainstay in mobile gaming, giving your players something to work towards—like new levels, challenges, and other incentives—can really determine how long people continue to play your game.
Altogether, Phillip Pounds has done a decent job considering this is just his second indie game. He definitely has a knack for capturing the retro feeling with his visuals and audio design, something that he can improve upon in future projects. Sadly, the overall performance of the app and the sheer amount of advertisements you’ll experience as you play make it very hard to recommend Save the Turtles! with any real conviction. Pounds still has a ways to go before he reaches his true potential as a developer. Still, despite the issues his game might have, it's good to see him putting himself out there so that he can learn from his mistakes and grow in the future.
These impressions are based on a preview version provided by the developer, as well as the live version of the game. Save the Turtles! is available on Google Play for free right now.