Leo's Fortune review: Gold 'stache

Leo's Fortune stars a blue ball of fur with a mustache. Actually, make that a rich blue ball of fur named Leopold, who sets out on a journey to demand the return of his missing gold from other fuzzy blobs he's related to in one way or another. At its heart, Leo's Fortune is a beautiful side-scrolling platformer, challenging players to slide and leap past spiky obstacles and solve simple, puzzling contraptions while collecting gold coins along the way.

The game's brief, unadorned story only serves as connective tissue throughout the 20 primary/story campaign levels. It's a charming tale, one narrated by Leopold in an attractive sounds-like-Russian-if-you're-American accent. Leo hypothesizes the fate of his gold while considering those close to him, each having lost something of material value in their lives, as suspects. The story wouldn't normally be noteworthy in an iOS platformer like Leo's Fortune, but it left an impression on me in its final chapter.
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Leo's Fortune (5/30/14)

Leo's Fortune offers two control schemes, one of which meets the challenge of overcoming the issues platform games tend to have on touch-only devices. The default scheme (the one that works best) has players sliding their left thumb back and forth to push the fuzzy hero forward and backward. Sliding up with your right thumb causes Leo to jump and inflate, and sliding down forces him back to the Earth. The alternative scheme swaps out the sliding mechanics out for virtual buttons, but I found the default method instantly accessible on an iPad Mini, and I was easily able to navigate dangerous, spike-filled caves, looping tracks and distant leaps of faith without any real issue. The game hits that sweet spot required of platformers, where your instincts and intuition align to the physics of the environment, making it simple to gauge leaps and understand Leo's limitations.

As such, Leo's Fortune is at its best when your instincts take over, while still offering enough creative design to maintain your interest, the same way that a veteran Sonic player might skip through Green Hill Zone. The environments include natural and man-made obstacles, like twisting caverns and swinging wooden platforms, all of which are smoothly detailed and draped with a lovely natural backdrop of trees, ruins and mountains. Leo's accentuated voice adds a layer of attractiveness to the whole package, especially as he mutters, grunts and chortles his way past stretches of dangerous obstacles and death-pits.

With only 20 standard courses (as well as four bonus challenge levels), Leo's Fortune manages to feel creative in its design throughout, never pausing long enough to feel stale. The best courses feel like part of a larger machine, with cogs, gears and switches in Leo's path. Its inventive design is evident as early as the first level, in which Leo needs to slide through a narrow track and inflate to push a switch and open doors. Pleasantly simple platforming mechanics and levels that maximize their use make for a brilliant combination. For example, one section has Leo floating around enormous, spiked iron balls while a stiff breeze carries him upward, forcing you to inflate/deflate your way through. The overall experience feels fleshed out, even with just two dozen levels.

That said, the game is also almost painfully easy. I never got stuck on a puzzle, only halting whenever I couldn't get past a particularly tricky platforming obstacle. The challenge increases significantly with the unlockable "hardcore" mode, which measures how far in the game players can get without dying once. I didn't need to attempt it many times before realizing how impossible a task that seemed. Each level also offers up three stars to collect, one for clearing it in a record time, another if you don't lose a life and a third for collecting every piece of gold. Some players may be driven to perfect every course, but I didn't find much appeal in it.

Even as a one-off experience, though, Leo's Fortune is an excellent platformer. The thumb-sliding controls fit tablet play perfectly, and the clever, gorgeous design is evident throughout. It's neither lengthy nor terribly challenging, but these complaints are outweighed by the joy of sliding through each beautiful level.

Here's hoping Leo loses his gold again someday.

This review is based on an iOS download of Leo's Fortune, provided by 1337 & Senri. Images: 1337 & Senri.

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