Many cell phone titles today are pushing the envelope in what's possible on a wireless handset. Gameloft's Rail Rider works within the boundaries of cell phone entertainment and, as a result, creates a very complete and surprisingly addictive experience. The whole game takes place in a mine cart that is careening thorough dark caverns, around mountain cliffs and up airy peaks--essentially taking the rail sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and riffing on it. It's played from a first-person perspective and it's filled with roller coaster-level dives and jumps.
The graphics in Rail Rider range from decent to incredible. One moment you'll be dropping down a dark, gray tunnel made out of human bones, and the next moment you'll be exiting the cave into a bright white wonderland with freshly fallen snow and ice blue waterfalls. The speed at which the game moves makes the visuals even more impressive.
Rail Rider is divided into two types of play: platform and shooting. In the platform sequences, you must avoid rocks, flames, and other obstacles by leaning the cart in the opposite direction of the danger. For instance, avoiding a large pile of rocks on the ground requires pressing up, or 2 on the keypad, to jump, while getting through a vertically tight package requires pressing down, or 8 on the keypad, to duck. The track twists and turns on a dime, so it's not unusual to do a hairpin turn to the left and have to immediately dodge some sort of obstacle. Platform gaming is the heart of Rail Rider, making up about 70 percent of the experience.
The remainder of Rail Rider is a first-person shooter. You use the outer keypad numbers to move the onscreen cursor and the 5 key to fire, though with the surplus of enemies, activating the autofire option is recommended. There are no weapon power-ups or ammo issues, making the shooter portions pretty mindless, but a good change of pace nonetheless.
The enemies are colorful, creative and, in some cases, scary. Bats are all over the place, as one would expect from a cavern game, but they range in size from tiny to huge, and color from black to blood red. More interesting are the flying skulls and the monsters that zoom in quickly from the distance and rotate around the screen to bite you. Gameloft takes full advantage of the first-person perspective and the claustrophobia-inducing arena, cramming the screen with enemies, often right in your face. The worst (and best) of the lot is the demon hand, a huge claw that creeps up from beneath your cart. It moves slow enough to give ample time to be attacked, but it still will creep you out every time.
Another surprise treat is the inclusion of bosses, an unexpected factor in a game where shooting plays such a small role. They are difficult, intricate beasts, and like any good old-school shooter, beating them requires a succession of battles. For instance, the first boss is a demonized train with four pinwheel-firing cannons and one big chaingun. To destroy it you must eliminate the four miniguns so that the machine will pull out its big gun, which in turn exposes its weak spot. Both the bosses and the hero have liberal energy bars. Average enemies don't have energy bars, so it's not too difficult to make quick work of them, but the bosses usually require several tries.
Energy and other bonuses can be found throughout the caverns, which lends the game some more depth. Energy is replenished partially by blue crystals and fully by red crystals. Collecting yellow crystals garners you extra points. Finding the target symbol doubles the firepower, a health pack heals you, and the wagon gives a bonus, like the yellow crystals.
Rail Rider's sound is much better than average. The title screen music is an addictive little tune, and the game music itself is thrilling, especially during the boss battles. The sound effects are good; the most notable among them is the scream when you accidentally hit a random woman tied to the rail tracks. Whoops.
One of the finer points of Rail Rider is its irreverent, almost idiotic sense of humor. Each of the game levels is broken up by text intermissions that move the nonsensical storyline forward. Episode topics range from Hollywood acting to dating tips. The game never takes itself too seriously, which makes the adrenaline-pumping action that much more fun.
Rail Rider also is a great value compared to other cell phone arcade games. It has 15 three- to four-minute levels, some of which are tough enough to require a replay. Beating the game unlocks the more difficult "Xtreme" mode, which extends the game time even further. Overall, Gameloft's Rail Rider is a wholly satisfying experience recommended for platform junkies and shooter addicts alike.