Whack AR!

Whack AR! iOS Game Review

Whack AR! is one of my favorite machines in the arcade place near my house. I never skip it when I go there. It’s fun, fast-paced and challenging. I was really excited when I first heard about a popular arcade Whac-A-Mole game in augmented reality. I knew this game can be great in AR and therefore I was eager to try it out.

What is Whac-A-Mole?

For those of you who don’t know what Whac-A-Mole is, it’s a popular arcade redemption game that was invented back in 1975. It’s a waist-level cabinet with five holes in them. The machine pops up moles at a random place every few seconds and the player need to hit it directly on the head with the mallet to push it down.  The more moles you hit the higher the score. Hitting a mole will trigger other moles, so to get a better score the player needs to act fast and hit the moles as fast as possible.

Of course, this game has received many different variations that are different than the original design.

Before I move on, I just want to mention that I did play a Whac-A-Mole AR game before with apparently very similar art-style and 3D models 打地鼠AR (Whac-A-Mole AR). Although the 3D assets are virtually the same as in Whack AR! (probably from the same source), the gameplay experience was just terrible. The developer of Whack AR! did a much better job using what seems like the same 3D assets to create a much better Whac-A-Mole gameplay experience.

Whack AR! Gameplay

Whack AR! follow the same gameplay mechanic. However, instead of hitting the moles with a mallet, you tap on the screen where the mole is located. There different type of malls as well. One with a hat will double the score (this stacks up) and the one holding the bomb which will end the match if you hit it by mistake. You have 60 seconds to try to reach the highest score. The game starts slow but quickly gets more frantic, making it harder to hit the moles.

Whack AR! iOS game screenshot
Playing the Tabletop game mode of Whack AR.

If you accidentally hit the moe with the bomb, the game will end without any points. I actually don’t know why the developer has chosen to do it this way and not maintain the score at the end of the match unless I am missing something.

Let’s take a look at some crazy Whac-A-Mole gameplay before we move on.

Whack AR! features two games modes: a Table Top mode and a 360° mode. in the Table Top mode, the user draws a rectangular area which the game plays within it, which is more similar to the classic game. In the 360-degree mode, the holes are placed around the player and the player needs to rotate on the spot in order to hit as many malls as possible under the limited time frame.

Boom, game over in Whac-A-Mole
Oops, I’ve hit the mole dude with the bomb, my bad-game over.

I personally found the 360° game mode to be quite annoying, because the game is so frantic, that by the time you make a small turn a mole is already spawned in the other place you were previously facing. It also uncomfortable to look down and turn fast on the spot and made me a bit dizzy. I just found myself covering only half of the circle and just doing the best I can to hit as many moles as possible. I believe some of you will love it but I found myself turning back to the Table Top mode where I had more fun playing the game. The good thing is that you have two modes, so you can decide which one you prefer better or switch between the two if you are want to try a different type of Whac-A-Mole gameplay experience.

Whack AR 360-degrees game mode
Whack AR 360-degrees game mode.

When you hit a hole or a mole, there is a nice animation of a hammer and some nice sound effects. The moles make really cute voices which makes the gameplay experience more fun and cheerful.

Whack AR! Visuals & Sounds

Whack AR! has a low-poly art-style which works nicely for this game.  The developer added some nice background items like trees and rocks to make the level look more detailed and interesting. Still, it would be nice to have different level designs, not just one. The game also boasts some nice low-poly visual effects that make it fil good when you finally able to hit a mole on the head.

There is a background music that perfectly fits the cartoon-style art direction and the gameplay experience.

In my opinion, the music and sound effects are the best assets of this game and they just make the whole difference in the world for this type of game, so well done in this category.

I Did Encounter Some Issues

First of all, I really didn’t understand the idea of letting the user draw the gameplay area in the tabletop mode? It’s so unintuitive and confusing. A few times I received a message that the left or front edge was too small. If the game asks me for a rectangular area, why not make a pre-defined level and allow the user to resize it as he wishes. The whole process of drawing the gameplay area is just cumbersome and unnecessary. Even the UI was designed badly and I’m sure many users, especially those at a young age will find it annoying and troublesome.

Whack AR! wierd perspective
If you don’t create a square (all sides of the same length) the result is an awkward looking gameplay area.

Even after you finish setting up the level, if you set up an area that isn’t straight up square (all sides equal in length), it can look weird like in a wrong perspective.

Front edge too small, please try again
“Front edge too small, please try again”. Is this awkward initialization process really necessary?

This is the first game that I’ve seen that has such an awkward initialization process. I believe that the developer wanted to make the gameplay area more flexible, but in my opinion, this is can just lead to usability issues for users than anything else.

This flexible gameplay area initialization should allow users to create a gameplay area on tables or other objects that aren’t necessary square shaped, like a  table with a rectangular shape where two parallel sides are longer than the two other sides. The gameplay area is responsive and adapts well to different rectangular shaped surfaces where the player plans to play the game at. This is the positive side, but in my opinion, the possible usability concerns here might outweigh its benefits.

Global leaderboard trophy button
I didn’t know that it’s a button. You need to click the gold trophy to access the global leaderboards and achievements screen.

Second, it took me forever finding where the global leaderboards and the achievements are. When you start a game, there is a gold trophy which you need to click to access the global leaderboard. It actually fibrillates and makes a sound, but I haven’t noticed it until after I stopped playing and start writing the review. If I missed it, many other users will. What’s wrong with just a clear leaderboard button and not just when I start or end a game, but in the main menu before I even choose which mode to play.

I also think that there is a big place to make the game more exciting than just trying to follow the classic gameplay. For example, I would add some power-ups. For example, an auto-pilot hammer which once you obtain one, it will make the hammer move quickly up and down and you can tap more moles like that, but of course, you risk hitting the bomb one as well. Something like that which will make the gameplay more dynamic and interesting to play. Maybe even adding a power-up that gives you two hammers and you can use two thumbs to hammer down those sneaky little moles.

I also had a few bugs where I couldn’t play the tabletop mode in a large area, when tapping play the game just resets and I needed to draw the rectangular shape all over again. I tried it many times, didn’t work. Only when I drew a small shape it worked. Another problem happened during the 360-degree game mode, where the ring deployed not around me, but on the side and I was able to score millions of point this way without any problem.

Conclusion

Whack AR! takes the popular classic Whac-A-Mole and bring that exciting experience to Augmented Reality using Apple’s ARKit technology. I like the option to choose your favorite game mode and adding a global leaderboard allow users to show off their achievements.

The thing that struck me the most are the funny voices and the crazy soundtrack that really helps to elevate the entire gameplay experience.

I did play many other non-AR Whac-A-Mole iOS games and they were much more dynamic, thrilling and engaging for me to play than this one (Mole Pop by byungjin Kim and Whack Mania are a few examples). I like the classic game, but when I play a mobile game, there is so much place for innovation because you are not restricted to the limitations the physical game has. Why not get crazier with ideas. There are plenty of other Whac-A-Mole style games out there that did just that.

At the end of the day, it just felt like a less thrilling Whac-A-Mole experience compared to what I imagined it could have been. Still, the voice and sound effects save the game from being monotonous but I just don’t think it’s enough. This being an Augmented Reality game doesn’t mean that it has to feel incomplete or thrilling to play than other non-AR games. I do understand the design limitations, but I have seen through the many games that I play, that there is plenty of room to deliver really impressive AR experiences with those limitations. Still, I can understand if the developer wanted to stay loyal to the classic gameplay and its root, nothing is wrong with that either. The question is whether the game will be fun to play more than just a few minutes. The classic arcade machine was fun, but I wouldn’t spend an hour on it when I’m in the arcade place.

The game also has some usability issues that I hope that will be corrected in future versions. Just for the fairness of it, I did play the game on the iPad 9.7 2017 with version 1.0 of the game that was released on November 23rd, 2017.

Having said all that, the game brings a gameplay that is close to the classic arcade and the “whacking” tapping experience did play well in AR. That being said, it’s not a game that makes the whacking experience more exciting to play because it’s in AR, in many ways the standard game due to many factors feels much more fun and engaging. In my opinion, the game definitely needs improvements and some cool arcade-style features to make the gameplay feel more dynamic and entertaining, but it’s still fun and even hilarious at times because of the really adorable voices and music.

You can download the game from the App Store here.

Whack AR!
6.5/10

Summary

Whack AR! brings the classic Whac-A-Mole arcade experience to Augmented Reality with two game modes. It features frenzied gameplay experience and hilarious sound effects that make the entire Whacking experience fun and exhilarating. The game does has quite a few issues and lacking features that could have made it so much better. After a short time, it becomes a bit tiresome and the excellent sound effects and adorable music are, unfortunately, not enough to keep the excitement long-lived. I think it’s more aimed at the young audience than adults that search for a more challanging and fully-features competitive casual game.