Part racer. Part story. Part puzzle adventure. All brilliant
Size: 98.5 MB
Developer: Dan Vogt
The little ship at the heart of Data Wing looks like it’s escaped from an ancient Asteroids machine. As you rotate the triangular craft left and right, it battles inertia, always threatening to smack into its surroundings.
But whereas in Asteroids every touch with the environment spelled death, Data Wing is a very different beast. Your minimal world comprises top-down racing circuits, which you speed along, grinding the craft’s tail against track edges for turbo boosts.
It’s an odd combination of styles and ideas – tough to grapple with at first, but hugely rewarding when you successfully arc your craft to take advantage of curved sections of track, shaving seconds off of your lap time. But really the oddest thing about the game is… everything else.
From the off, Data Wing threads a storyline between its races. But this isn’t a tedious tale of macho racers trying to psyche out opponents. Instead, it turns out you are a ‘data wing’, ferrying precious cargos of data from point to point within the bowels of a device, as directed by a sentient AI, Mother.
Mother doesn’t think a lot of you (assuming, since you don’t answer back, that you’re lacking in sentience), but nonetheless guides you, while jabbering away and thereby providing ongoing insight into her frankly worrying thought processes.
To say much more would spoil things, but it’s rare to find a racer where the story’s worth the electrons required to fire its narrative towards your face. Yet here, it almost trumps the action, not least when you start getting glimpses of a world beyond silicon, metal and glass.
Almost, because Data Wing’s arcade bits are fantastic. The feel of the craft is perfect, and the track design is smart. The game also constantly switches things up. One minute, you’ll be in a time trial, desperately trying to reach the finish line within a handful of seconds. Next, you’ll be battling what appear to be zombified data wings.
Some of the best bits aren’t even races at all, when the game’s abruptly flipped on its side. These levels are akin to simple adventures with a smattering of puzzling, having you find keys to unlock doors, and use boost pads and track edges to battle gravity and clamber your way to the exit.
In short, then, Data Wing is something special. What in stills looks like a minimal, retro top-down racer has the capacity to surprise and bring joy to the player time and time again. That it’s been released for free, with no IAP, and not even any ads, must make it one of the biggest gaming bargains the iPhone’s ever seen.