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Stan Lee's 'Verticus' Starts With Awesomeness, Then Falls Flat

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 19, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Stan Lee's 'Verticus' Starts With Awesomeness, Then Falls Flat

Verticus is a game for iPhone and iPad by Moonshark. It is available for US$1.99 from the iOS App Store.

When I saw that comic book legend Stan Lee was involved in a new iOS game released last week, "Verticus," I was stoked enough to drop $1.99 and give it a try. After all, we're talking about Stan Lee here, and if you don't appreciate his contribution to the entertainment world -- co-creator of Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man, and more -- a new iOS game won't mean much to you.

Stan Lee's Verticus
Stan Lee is your mission commander in "Verticus."
The premise is simple: You're a superheroish guy in a suit of armor freefalling from the sky, through a futuristic city, and into the Earth's core. Along the way, you fly into coins and orbs while avoiding explosive mines and evil robots left by the Obliterators, which are aliens who planted a bomb called the "Cosmic Fuse" inside the Earth.

If it sounds like a comic book sort of plot, well yeah, that's the point. Your job is to get to the Fuse and prevent it from blasting mankind into cosmic dust. As such, Verticus begins with a narrative intro by Stan Lee, and wow, this guy has a great voice. Really sets the scene and gets you stoked to play. I don't think anyone in the world can say the word "peril" quite like Stan Lee.

Nifty Take on the Endless Runner Genre

What I like most about Verticus is that it is well-done take on the endless runner genre of apps like "Temple Run" and "TheEndApp." Instead of running through streets or trails, you get to fall like a skydiver and move through 360 degrees. The graphics are smooth, evocative of comic book art, and controls are responsive. I like controlling the falling guy -- to a point.

The game quickly gets difficult, at least for me. As I speed up, it gets harder for me to dodge mines, and the faster I go, the harder it gets. After a few minutes of play, you should get the hang of it, but instead of experiencing more story, more plot, more visual feast, you get the sense that it's really more of a neurological challenge than an experience.

In order to win, you'll have to spend time honing your reflexes, recognizing the obstacles, and mixing those two new skills with strategy, like upgrading your suit of armor and using weapons to blast things out of your way, all the while spending coins.

Some of the coins and orbs that you collect as you play, you can save and spend in the game store to upgrade your armor and attributes. This is fairly typical. After you crash and die, for instance, you can choose to continue to save the Earth or quit and watch it blow up. To continue, it will cost you orbs, and each time you continue it will cost more orbs.

I Watched the World Explode

Turns out, I'm pretty sure I'll never save the world this way. In fact, I lost the game multiple times and watched the Earth explode.

So the question becomes, "Is this game right for you or right for me?" If I complain that it's too hard and it takes too long, maybe I'm trying to do something that I'm not cut out for. To put this in perspective, if you've only ridden a scooter and you jump on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R, I would expect you to crash and burn. It takes time to build skill. I get that.

The perceived payoff, though, is key. If I learn to ride a hot motorcycle, that skill will enable me to do quite a lot. It's worth the challenge and time. If I spend hours of my life honing my ability to dodge mines and shards of inner-core rock, will the end of the game be awesome? I don't know, but right now, I don't believe that it will be all that awesome.

Pay to Play?

The fundamental premise behind so many iOS games these days is the in-app purchase. The games are set up so that you can get a taste of the game for a free or low cost of entry -- which is good -- but then quickly the games seem to be stacked with obstacles that require you to painstakingly play and collect and play and spend and play until you amass enough coin, orbs, tokens, or pebbles to buy the hero features you need in order to win. Or take a shortcut and buy a pack of something with real money via an in-app purchase.

The buy-to-gear-up premise makes me wonder if these games are training our young people to become good consumers more than anything else: Sure, you MIGHT be able to win at life if you get lucky, even if you work hard, but isn't it easier to just buy what you need so you can win -- a.k.a. beat the game -- instead? Do you want to go to the store to buy more orbs now? Or do you want to watch the world explode?

Makes you wonder if a guy like Stan Lee is truly on board with how all this goes down these days in the app game world.

All in all, while Verticus starts off with awesomeness, I can't see myself attempting to complete the game. Take a look at the Top In-App Purchases on the pages for the game. I don't know about you, but I'm not shelling out $4.99 for a Medium Orb Pack, and I'm sure as heck not buying the Large Coin Pack for $19.99. I understand that game development is hard and risky. I get that. I just don't believe in this model for creativity or profit. Turns me off.

Personally, Verticus has made it clear to me that I need to avoid games that force me to play for hours and hours in order to train my brain to deal with super-fast obstacles on a touchscreen. I'm a digital guy, but I can't spend my whole life on a screen. So what am I looking for? More story experience, engaging graphics, humor, and surprising turns of plot.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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