Touchgrind is a skateboarding simulation from developers Illusion Labs. One of the more popular skateboarding games on the iPhone, Touchgrind eschews the exaggerated physics and personality-driven features of mainstream skateboarding games by focusing on realistic physics and delicate manipulation of the touchscreen. Extremely challenging, highly addictive, and taking full advantage of the iPhone’s touchscreen makes this game a power player on the application market.
The game design is remarkably simple – you guide a little skateboard with your fingers through a terrain park. There’s a tutorial, a freeplay practice area, a competition arena, and a jam session area to practice your skills. The tutorial gives you the basics of gameplay, but plays like a video rather an interactive guide to teach you how to play.
As you win more competitions, you can unlock more decks to play with. Since the view is top down, you’ll have to rely on the little icons on the corners of the screen to know when an obstacle is close. When the icon shakes, you know its time to initiate a trick.
Kickflips, ollies, grinds and other mainstream skateboarding tricks can be initiated by throwing your fingers in certain directions at appropriate times. There are no grabs because you’re not manipulating a skateboarder, but the board itself. The game in effect cuts out the middleman.
The physics engine is very realistic, so you won’t be counting your airtime in minutes and you won’t be linking dozens of tricks in the air ala Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The tradeoff is that the game isn’t very forgiving- millimeters can determine if the skateboard is turning or heading straight.
The learning curve is pretty daunting. Maybe you have more hand-eye coordination than this intrepid gaming reporter, but it took me a couple days to even master the ollie. But that’s part of the game’s appeal. The variety of stages and tricks isn’t massive, but the difficulty is what will keep you coming back and trying again. So when you do execute a trick- like say actually grinding a rail and launching into a kickflip- you’ll probably make an audible exclamation of triumph that will echo throughout your small magazine office.
While the “top down” view allows you unhindered ability to manipulate your board, it presents some navigation issues. I experienced a great deal of difficulty steering my board towards park features, and though the zoom out feature is helpful, the ability to zoom out and skate at the same time would be a nice feature.
The boards are varied and really do feel different when playing with them, and the competitions will keep players coming back again and again to unlock new content and beat their old top scores. That said, the environments are very limited, and aside from the boards, there isn’t much to discover once you’ve understood the basic skills of the game.
Touchgrind is a fun, challenging application that takes a different approach to the skateboarding genre. Casual gamers who are used to glitzy stunts and stunning visuals won’t find it here. Instead, players who seek difficulty and realistic physics will enjoy the exacting and addictive nature of the game.
Touchgrind runs on an iPhone or iPod touch with iPhone 2.0 Software Update installed.
[Chris Holt is an assistant editor for Macworld.]