Bonecruncher Soccer is an entertaining arcade soccer title which pits you squarely against a series of defenders as you try to get the ball down the field, side-stepping and spinning to dodge your attackers before ultimately taking aim at the goal. The very first thing I noticed (as I suspect others will too) is that that Bonecruncher Soccer bares more than a passing resemblance to NaturalMotion’s Backbreaker Football, a brilliant game from which Distinctive Developments no doubt drew their inspiration. So how does this new title from Distinctive Developments stack up against Backbreaker? Bonecruncher Soccer holds it’s own, offering a few unique gameplay elements (mostly sport-related) which keep it from being just an outright clone of Backbreaker Football.

The game is divided into four unlockable difficulties (or challenges) Amateur, Smi Pro, Pro and World Class. Each challenge gets progressively more difficult, adding new gameplay elements, but each contains 10 “attack” waves and you must successfully complete all 10 waves of a challenge to unlock the next. At the start of a wave the camera pans down the pitch to show you where the defenders are. Then you must run down the field and try to safely make it to the goal at the other end. Your player will automatically run down the field, but you can tilt your device back to slow down or press your finger down on the screen to run faster. By tilting your device left and right, you control the horizontal movement of your player. When you come to an attacker you can either try to dodge him with a side step to left or right, which is accomplished by swiping a finger left or right on the screen, or try a spin move, which is initiated by swiping upward on the screen. The spin move is more difficult to pull off, as it requires near perfect timing, but if successful, you’ll earn twice as many points as a side-step. Should you fail to dodge your opponent, you will be met with a fierce and decisive bone-crunching sound as you are taken down…hard.

I did notice a little bit of a delay between when I swiped and when I saw the action get performed on the screen. I wish the response time was just a little bit faster but this didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the game. The swiping motions feel natural and are a bit more immersive than just pressing a single button to perform these actions. Once you’ve made it down the field, play literally stops behind you and you are given a chance to try to score on an open net. Sometimes the net will contain targets worth various points. If the ball hits one of these targets, you earn bonus points. Kicking on goal is also handled via a swiping motion on the touch screen. The key here is to use a little finesse and swipe just hard enough to keep from missing the goal or a bonus point target completely.

At the end of a level you are given a score based on a number of factors including the number of side steps or spins successfully performed, scoring a goal, hitting a bonus target in the goal (and in later challenges) running through the cones. You are given 5 attempts to complete a level (attack) and getting hit by a defender or missing the goal will cause you to fail an attempt. Completing the level in the least number of attempts possible will earn you more points. Per-challenge leaderboards are nicely handled via Game Center, but unfortunately Bonecruncher lacks a direct link to these boards in-game.

As I mentioned earlier, you do have the option to sprint down the field, but I found that this seems to have very little influence on events, and there is no time bonus for completing a level more quickly. The sprinting seems to serve no purpose other than shortening the time it takes you to reach a defender. Unlike in Backbreaker Football, the defenders don’t seem to continue to come after you after you’ve passed them so there really is no need to sprint. The developers insist that this is not the case, but I found that I had to try hard to get struck from behind. You also have the ability to avoid attackers completely without spinning or sidestepping, a task which I found much more difficult to pull off in Backbreaker Football. To add a sense of urgency to Bonecruncher, I love to see the addition of a time point bonus which directly correlates to how long it took you to finish the level, so you are rewarded for finishing the level faster, or have the defenders be more aggressive when attacking from behind if you are too slow. Either one of these should compel players to use the sprint more. I’d also like to see it be a little less forgiving, at least in the later challenges. There were numerous times where I should have been sprawled out on the ground, but somehow I successfully dodged my attackers.

This leads into my second complaint. As it stands right now, you have no time limit during which you must shoot your shot on goal. You can just sit there and no defender will attack you. It’d be nice if Distinctive Developments would add some sort of countdown clock or some sense of urgency here as well. If you wait too long, again, perhaps a defender could come and get the ball from you from behind. It just feels like all the momentum you built up during the sprinting and dodging is completely lost and this feels a bit disjointed.

Rounding out the game’s features is a shootout mode where you attempt to hit as many targets as possible. Between attempts, the targets change locations, size and point-value, as does your angle on goal. You are allowed to miss the targets a total of five times. At the end, your score is the total of all the targets you hit. One thing that is missing from this mode is a visible counter showing how many misses you have left.

Bonecruncher’s Retina Display graphics look fantastic, showing some really nice detail and lighting/shadow on the grass. Your player’s uniform, skin color, and hair are all customizable. The 3D animations and replays are all smooth and natural looking. Cameras capture all of the action and your are treated to (skip-able) sweeping replays after each attempt. The entire game plays out to the thunderous roar of the crowd of spectators.

In Conclusion

There is no denying that Bonecruncher Soccer obviously “borrows” heavily from Backbreaker Football so the comparisons are inescapable. I am a big fan of NaturalMotion’s Backbreaker Football game so the key for me was finding out if there was enough to love about Distinctive Development’s game to warrant playing pretty much the “same game” again. Fortunately like the sports they emulate, I think there is plenty of room for both games on the app store. Bonecruncher’s high production values along with the running/shooting combination add a nice new multi-stage gameplay to this style of game. That being said, I do hope that Distinctive Developments can do something to smooth out the transition between these tasks and keep the energy level up, like a real game of soccer. Soccer fans will definitely enjoy this game and at 99¢, Bonecruncher Soccer is an easy recommendation.