We’ve all seen football (soccer for the Americans reading this review) games played on the iPhone and the iPod Touch, PES 2011 and FIFA 11 to name a few. However, what I am reviewing today is a game on Water Polo. Available on the Apple App Store for $1.99, H20 Polo from New York-based development studio Aquasapiens, seeks to serve as a virtual extension of the actual sport. H20 Polo aims to serve an untapped area of the sports gaming market currently dominated by soccer and basketball games. Aquasapiens should be applauded for the creation of this game. A simple Google search reveals that previous attempts at games about Water Polo are…well…to be blunt, pretty crappy. Aquasapiens has managed to bring the feel and realism of the sport that previous games could not. Instead of lookinf like a soccer games with the field simply swapped for a pool, H20 Polo feels like it was desingned by people who play the sport, with attention to details like each match is divided into four quarters, and the hand signals referees make whenever they come to a decision.
The objective of the game is simple, score as many goals as possible, while preventing your opponent from scoring. You control an entire Water Polo team, much like in the FIFA and PES games, except that you can’t touch the goalkeeper. Each match starts off with the opening sprint, with every field player rushing for the ball located in the middle of the pool. This is a sprint for possession, but there does not seem to be a way to increase the players’ speed – be it through a slight boost, or through some other unorthodox method.
Here is a video I shot to demonstrate the game play. Please pardon the lack of skills as I was randomly hitting buttons to show what happens when you get a foul. Pathetic gamesmanship aside, let’s look at the game in a bit more detail.
Whether on offense of defense, the controls exist of three buttons (Ball, Hand and Swap) and a joystick. While attacking, the Ball button allows players to shoot. Holding the button down longer will generate a more powerful shot. However, what I do not like about this is that there is no indicator of how long you have held on to the button, and thus you cannot judge how powerful your shot will be. The Hand button allows for the player to make a pass to a teammate. Do note that this is to be followed with a tap of the Swap button, for the game does not feature auto-switching. The Swap button works the same regardless of attacking or defending. It allows you to switch players. While defending, the Ball button also allows players who are close enough to the opposing player to go for a steal. Be careful, for this may result in a foul. The Hand button also allows for players to rise up above the water and make a block, when on the defensive.
That said, the tutorial offers a basic guide to game play, but people who do not play the sport may have difficulty understanding the penalties issued by the referee, as well as the terms used by the game. I was disappointed to discover that the goalkeeper cannot be controlled. The player switching system is rather confusing, as the game will not automatically switch players for you when the ball is passed from one to the other. Players with the ball that you are not controlling will swim forwards by default, and you will have to tap the Swap button to gain control of them.
H20 Polo could do well with some minor visual improvements particularly with the splashing of water as players move. If you look closely, the water comes out of their asses?! The splashing is generated from the kicking of the players, so should it not come from the feet? The difficulty in distinguishing between players can be worked on as well, for their caps can currently only be differentiated after much intense scrutiny. Player artificial intelligence is something else that needs a little tweaking, for it is not uncommon to see players clumping together, swarming towards the ball.
Despite the game’s few hiccups, I would still recommend that you buy H20 Polo. For $1.99, this is a game that is worth the purchase price. Two dollars will perhaps get you a couple of chilled drinks, so why not use it and give this game a go instead? It may not be perfect, but it is definitely a breakthrough in the genre. A virtual extension of the sport indeed. I look forward to seeing updates from Aquasapiens in the near future. This game has the potential to go a long way.