Old time Mac gamers may remember this venerable classic game from the early 1990's. At the time, Spaceward Ho was a showcase turn-based strategy title that helped sell a lot of Macintosh computers. The same folks responsible for the original Mac version have ported the game to the iPad. Has the game survived the transition to the iPad's touch interface? Read on to find out.
Like so many early Mac users, I was a big fan of the original desktop release of Spaceward Ho!, and was thrilled to learn that it was coming out for the iPad. I had great expectations that the game would not only capture the memorable gaming experiences from the original, but also leverage the iPad's interface and features to extend the game in new and exciting ways. Well, I was right about the first part.
Spaceward Ho! is a fiendishly addicting turn-based strategy game wrapping the objective of planetary conquest within a light-hearted western cattle drive metaphor. Graphics and sound effects imbue this odd couple and truly help to add wonderful character to the game. Developer Ariton also put together a few nice video tutorials
to help players more quickly understand the game objectives and mechanics.
While the game will instantly appeal to all those gamers who played the original for nostalgic reasons, the under-30 crowd might find the game less so. For one, the interface looks and behaves a bit like a mid-90's desktop port. While this works great for players already familiar with the desktop edition, some user interfaces decisions don't work especially well on the iPad. For example, the popup game menu that can be accessed by touching the icon in the lower right of the play area is rather small compared to all the space available on the screen. The designers should have displayed these options as a full screen overlay to make item selection easy rather than trying to be as precise as a mouse pointer when attempting to select the menu item of choice. Same goes for some of the game's dialog boxes (Preferences dialog, I'm looking at you). Rather than center on the screen like a classic Mac dialog box, complete with tiny Mac-like fonts, these informational details should be full screen overlays that make widget selection and legibility a simple affair.
Beyond these user interface shortcomings, developer Ariton Technologies also missed the opportunity to extend and modernize the game in a more meaningful way beyond the original release. While purists may argue that modifying the game like that would be equivalent to colorizing a classic black and white movie, I beg to differ. For instance, the growing number of outstanding turn-based strategy games available in the App Store that support multiplayer out of the gate have already set the expectation bar. For Spaceward Ho!, a game that begs to have a multiplayer component, to not support any kind of online multiplayer options is a major letdown. Even if it offered a play-by-mail or even a Dropbox shared save game option, that would have at least been something. Perhaps such a feature will be added in a future update, but given how prominent online multiplay is a given in so many other iOS strategic turn-based games, it's a let down that this obvious feature wasn't available in this release.
Yet even with these gripes about the interface and current lack of online multiplayer support, there are plenty of things that Ariton did right. Even little things like the pinch to zoom feature to quickly assess the entire playfield is so much nicer and easier to work with compared with fighting the original's window scroll bars. Directing ships and resources from planet to planet is also an intuitive affair (though I would have preferred the connection lines between planets to be a tad thicker so they could be more easily discerned on the iPad's Retina display). The fact remains that even after a decade since its initial release, Spaceward Ho! is still a wonderfully entertaining turn-based strategy game that will keep you tapping on your iPad screen (and occasionally shaking your fist at the crafty alien computer opponents) late into the evening.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars