My PlayStation Vita is normally my portable Spelunky device. That's not to say that there aren't other games that get regularly played, but Spelunky tends to be where the bulk of the action is. It's a perfect fit for the handheld, and along with little gems like Luftrausers and TxK, there used to be a very small collection of games I'd revisit when I wanted a quick blast of something while on the train. I can now add another game to that list.
Choice Provisions has crafted a wonderfully simple single screen platformer in Woah Dave!. You might not recognise the name of the studio, but if I were to say Bit.Trip and Gaijin Games then perhaps that might jog something loose. The studio that created the wonderful Bit. Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (and the rest) has crafted one of the best mobile arcade platformers for years.
The premise is simple, yet as it's not explained, the player must discover the game for themselves. Dave can run, jump, and throw - but that's about it. His movement is snappy and precise, and there's a glorious waft to his jump. The little square dude is an absolute joy to control, and feels incredibly responsive on the Vita (there's also a PC version with a two-player tug-of-war mode, and iOS and Nintendo 3DS versions, that launched last year).
As each game develops it becomes more and more chaotic on the screen. To start with eggs and skulls drop from above. Both are on timers, the eggs hatch into one-eyed aliens, the skulls explode. At the bottom of the screen is a constantly-shrinking platform and beneath it lava. When an alien makes its way down the various platforms and drops off into the lava, it transforms and becomes a more dangerous variant (first it's faster, then it jumps, then it grows wings and flies).
Dave can't touch any of these enemies, or the laser-armed UFOs that enter the picture later on. All he can do is throw unhatched eggs and skulls at aliens (and hope they don't hatch when in-hand, that proves deadly), taking them out and in the process turning them into gold coins. The more advanced the alien, the more coins they're worth, but there's never huge amounts of gold to grab. Collecting the coins builds up the player's score, and there's some delicious personal best chasing and leader board climbing to be had here.
Finally, it should be noted that there's the Woah! squares that, like the eggs and skulls, drop from the heavens, and these can be thrown like smartbombs. When they land they turn all enemies on-screen into gold coins. These are most precious tools, and they encourage a risk versus reward style of play. Clear up the five basic aliens in front of you and take five coins, or wait, dodge the chaos as it unfolds, and take home a much larger haul.
Reaching $1.50 opens up a second difficulty, and it must be said that while it's more frantic and significantly harder to navigate, it's also probably the easiest way of racking up the high scores. Like a Tetris expert might find the first levels of block-dropping a touch boring, an experienced Woah Dave! player will no doubt yawn through the first part of a game played on normal, because it takes some time for the UFOs to appear and the pace to increase. With the harder mode the action gets more frantic, much more quickly.
Whichever setting you play it on, Woah Dave! is a hugely enjoyable little game. Visually it's simplistic, but there's undoubted charm in its design and composition. It looks fine on the PC, but on the small screen it's a real winner. Audio is straightforward, with a catchy theme tune peppered with chirpy sound effects and the jingle of collected coins (an effect that's not dissimilar to the one you'll find in Mario games - homage perhaps?).
The longer you play the harder the challenge becomes, but there's always room for improvement. Strategies evolve with experience, and a mad scramble for survival slowly over time becomes an exercise in crowd-control. The simple setup reminds me a little of another low-fi handheld masterpiece, the lovely Super Crate Box by Vlambeer.
When you layer in the influence of some notable classic arcade platformers, you're left with a wonderful blend of addictive action. I bagged my copy on Vita via last month's PS Plus, and so was more than happy to then pay for the PC version. However, at the end of the day, while Woah Dave! is a good fit on PC, I prefer to play it on a handheld. If you're after a quick fix, something to fill a gap while you're waiting for the bus, look no further than this. If you've not got a Vita (or an iDevice or Nintendo 3DS), it's still worth picking up for your computer.