Pocket Treasures: League of Evil

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Ravenous Games’ League of Evil series is about punching the heads off evil scientists. In a world of black-and-white, good-and-evil videogames, League of Evil is the blackest-and-whitest: you, the brawny cyborg commando are Good and those little, nerdy scientists are Evil.

Punch those heads off.

First things first: League of Evil is an excellent and solid platformer with the most responsive on-screen buttons I’ve ever used in an iOS game. Typically, I dislike on-screen buttons on principle (if your game needs buttons, why it is on the iPhone in the first place?). The lack of tactile feedback makes it too easy to press the wrong button or miss all the buttons completely with a tap. Yet, somehow, League of Evil pulls it off, giving a sense of feedback that allows for great precision of movement.

Levels are compact and challenging – more Super Meat Boy than Super Mario Brothers. You must double-jump, wall-jump and dash your way as quickly as possible past spikes, guards, ninjas, spinning blades and more spikes as you try to get to that evil scientist just waiting to have his head punched off. He won’t have to wait long; few levels take more than fifteen seconds for a three-star run.

The hundreds of stages are challenging but rarely frustrating; each is exquisitely designed to exemplify your commando’s versatile move set. Double-jumps, especially, become indispensable, essential not just for extra height but for carefully-aimed plummets and perfectly-timed landings.

Not unlike Super Meat Boy, there is a satisfaction in movement, a satisfaction in mastery. There’s a rhythm to your movement, a rhythm undampened by the lack of tactile feedback, still present in the dull tapping of your fingers on the screen as you jump and somersault over spikes and gunshots.

The low-resolution graphics are clean and slick, keeping the levels coherent and clear on the small screen, ensuring no visual debris interrupts your carefully-timed movement across the map. League of Evil 2, meanwhile, goes for higher-fidelity graphics that have less charm than the original, but still manage not to complicate the streamlined platforming too much.

Both are slick, excellent games with hundreds upon hundreds of different challenges. Yet, despite being my favorite platformers on the iPhone, something about the League of Evil games sits uneasily with me. It’s the black-or-white-ness. It’s the fact that there is really never any reason for why these seemingly harmless scientists are evil; they just are.

[pullquote]Science causes problems (resonance cascades, machine-gun jetpacks, zombie viruses) to which muscles and guns supply the solution.[/pullquote]

In the vast majority of videogames, might is right. Muscles and physical aptitude are ‘good’ whereas knowledge and intellect are ‘evil’. Science causes problems (resonance cascades, machine-gun jetpacks, zombie viruses) to which muscles and guns supply the solution. In a world where scientists have to deal with death threats simply for researching the effects of climate change, I’m not entirely sure if I’m okay with that.

Videogames have long oversimplified complex conflicts and narratives into simple good-versus-evil polemics, and other media have done the same for much, much longer. Perhaps it is unfair to pick on one little, above-average platformer series, but as a burly, red-eyed commando punches the heads off little, unarmed scientists who don’t do a thing to defend themselves, I can’t help but be concerned about where videogames’ priorities lie. The concern is fleeting, however, and disappears beneath the simple satisfaction of yet another perfectly timed double-jump as swiftly and regularly as it arises.

Games, Review