Game

Round and round and round and round and round and round and …

Enemies with arrows can only be destroyed by circling them one way.

Enemies with arrows can only be destroyed by circling them in one direction.

Helix is a game that marries ferocious old-school arcade sensibilities with modern touchscreen smarts. At its core, it’s deceptively simple, charging you with encircling any enemies that enter the screen in order to make them explode; however, as with the best arcade classics, Helix is extremely hard to master and furiously addictive.

You can take out several enemies at once by drawing bigger circles.

You can take out several enemies at once by drawing bigger circles.

Much of the game’s toughness is due to the speed at which the difficulty level ramps up: to begin with you only have the odd meandering interloper to tackle, but within a few seconds you’ll find yourself bombarded by a range of foes. Your survival depends on learning how to weave between them while still completing those all-important circles. Get hit once and it’s game over.

Any iOS gaming veterans will recognize the basic mechanics – avoid-’em-ups have been a mainstay on iOS since the likes of Tilt to Live and Bit Pilot grabbed hold. What sets Helix apart is the huge range of creatures lurking in its inky void.

This big alien materialises once you've hit about 50 points. Eek!

This big alien materializes once you’ve hit about 50 points. Eek!

Whereas Tilt to Live primarily threw formations of dots at you and Bit Pilot dumped you in an enclosed area populated by a suspicious number of asteroids, Helix is more reminiscent of arcade classics like Defender and Galaxian. Here, enemies aren’t “intelligent” as such, but their combined behavior patterns make surviving the onslaught a challenge. Some simply head right across the screen while others track your movements; the trickiest require several complete circles before they expire. During play, everything at once feels familiar yet oddly fresh.

A few seconds into Terror mode. We’re about to die.

A few seconds into “Terror” mode. We’re about to die.

From an aesthetic standpoint, Helix is – as you can see from the grabs – nothing to shout about. It’s not especially pretty, although each enemy type is at least distinct and therefore easy to recognize as it appears. The particle effects that scatter and whirl a vanquished foe’s individual pixels are dazzling, though.

Our hero makes for a screen edge, but there’s nowhere to escape to.

Our hero makes a desperate dash for a screen edge, but there’s no escape.

However, arcade games hinge on their controls and it’s here that Helix truly shines. You can control your little critter on a 1:1 basis by dragging a thumb or finger anywhere on the screen; alternatively, you can swipe and flick to zoom across the screen. Depending on whether you’re playing the basic Brog mode or the fiercer Terror or Vortex mode (the last requiring an unlock from the Options menu), each control type will come in handy – and both feel perfectly balanced.

31 points! That might not sound like much, but it will once you’ve played Helix…

31 points! That might not sound like much, but it will once you’ve played Helix …

Helix won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It can be frustratingly difficult and never gives an inch. But anyone out for some intoxicating arcade thrills will be hard pressed to find a better game of this type on iOS.

Price: $2.99/£1.99
Size: 13.3 MB
Version: 1.0
Platform: iOS Universal
Developer: Michael Brough

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Helix review: a hard-as-nails but insanely addictive arcade treat
A high-octane arcade title that is as challenging as it is addictive – and that is "very."
For
  • Hugely addictive
  • Excellent controls
  • Three difficulty levels
Against
  • Soundtrack grates a bit
  • Not much variety
  • Pretty unforgiving
4.6Overall Score