Knife Toss (Crawl Space Games) is a humorous, “target-practice” style shooter where you must throw daggers, butcher knives or axes at a spinning wheel to pop balloons while avoiding hitting a friendly (and nervous) looking clown who is strapped to the wheel. It is a game that excels due to its simplicity, but don’t let the cute cartoon graphics fool you, this is no kids’ game, it is actually a lot more difficult than we expected.

As you progress through the levels, the wheel will start spinning faster and faster and at about round 12, it actually starts randomly reversing direction, really throwing off your timing and rhythm. A timer is constantly counting down and when time runs out, the game is over. Periodically you will see special targets appear pop up just outside the wheel which you can hit to stop the wheel, slow the wheel, add 10 secs to the timer, remove 10 secs from the timer, or enable a temporary 2x point multiplier. There is also a big BONUS target that will pop up in the middle of the screen, hit the target and after the level you will get to play a special bonus round to earn bonus time, points and clown health.

The controls are simple, just tilt your device to move the cross-hair over your targets, and tap anywhere on the screen to toss your knife. As the wheel starts spinning faster, you will have to change the timing of your shots to take the moving target into consideration. We never found it to be an issue, but should for some reason the calibration get out of sync, you can just pause the game and it will automatically re-sync.

The round is over once you pop all the balloons on the wheel. If you accidentally miss a balloon and hit the the clown, he’ll let out an “ouch” and take some damage, but be careful not to hit him too many times or the game will be over. A health bar indicates how much more damage the Clown can take. Although, before you shed a tear for that “poor clown“….DON’T! the developer has assured us that the clown’s “heart is black. If we wasn’t strapped down I don’t even want to think about what would happen.”

For those that like to boast about their accomplishments, there is both Twitter and Facebook integration as well as 30 OpenFeint Achievements. Knife Toss’ four OpenFeint leaderboards cater nicely a variety of gameplay styles. The perfectionist can take it slowly and try to rack up the longest streak of popped balloons without a miss (Streaks), while speed players can try and clear the wheel as quickly as possible (Fastest Round), players with good stamina can try to make it through the most number of rounds (Rounds) and finally strategic players can simply try for the best possible score (Points).

As we said at the start of this review, Knife Toss is both fun and rather challenging. As a testament to this, let’s just say that it took us A LOT of attempts just to unlock the butcher knives at round 15 and as of the writing of this review, we still haven’t been able to unlock the axes (round 20). We suspect that the difficulty will frustrate some players, but we liked that the game was not too easy and we never found it so overwhelmingly difficult that we just wanted to give up. In fact, if the game was too easy, we don’t know that we would have found it as addicting.

The game has just recently been updated to fix many of our initial concerns, but unfortunately a few issues still remain. While the game has some nice sound effects, there is no in-game music other than in the menus. On our 2nd gen iPod Touch we are still seeing occasional stutters during the game causing lost time and missed shots, but we are not sure if the iPhone 3GS or 3rd gen iPod Touch see the same issues. We also occasionally see what appear to be direct hits on balloons register as misses rather than successful hits. Finally, there is no way to resume the game where you left off if you have to exit out of the game for some reason.

In conclusion…

Knife Toss is a fresh and unique casual game which will appeal to a wide variety of players, especially those that like a good challenge. Crawl Space has made nice use of both the accelerometer and touchscreen, resulting in a simple fun experience which feels like it was tailor made for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. From our conversations with the developer, their dedication to Knife Toss is evident and we have no doubt that (if possible) our few remaining concerns are likely to be addressed with future updates. We would have easily recommended the game at its regular price of $0.99, but for the next couple of days you have absolutely no reason NOT to pick up Knife Toss, since it is FREE through Monday, when it will be featured as OpenFeint’s Free Game of the Day!