Election season in many countries can be fraught with danger or disappointment. Fraud, intimidation, and even violence go part and parcel with attempts at democracy in nations like Kenya, where a new Android game developer called University of Games decided to spread awareness about democracy through fun.
Their first title, Election Thief, comes just days before a new election in Kenya, and it tells a fun and educational story about a fictional election fraud attempt. More pressing to our concerns here at Android.AppStorm, it’s a colorful, charming single-screen platforming romp, let down by a lack of polish. Let’s check it out.
Election Thief puts you in control of Omu, a peace-loving citizen who spots a thief running away with the election ballots. Omu gives chase, and so begins a wild ride through 15 chapters of five levels each. You’re also treated to several delightful comic-book-style cutscenes that advance the story and contextualize the sometimes-bizarre platforming.
The comic-book-style cutscenes are great fun to read through.
All of the levels are a single-screen affair, with an end goal of reaching the floating ballot paper before your lives run out. You start with five lives, then unlock more by earning badges. If you run out of lives, you have to return to the start of the current chapter.
It’s incredibly frustrating at times, although you’ll likely get the knack for controlling Omu after a few chapters. If the default virtual joystick feels too awkward, you can switch to accelerometer controls or a more traditional key pad — where your left thumb controls jumping while your right thumb steers Omu left and right.
Experiment with the control schemes. I prefer the key pad, but you may find a virtual joystick easier.
There are badges for reaching key plot points and managing to complete certain tasks a number of times — such as withstand hits from the Vulture’s thugs or negotiating your way across slippery surfaces. The game starts out with simple platforms, but in later levels these morph into slippery, falling, rising, or sliding blocks.
You also encounter hazards such as wind and barbed wire, with some dodgy collision detection turning many close shaves into frustrating failures.
Frustration may well be the unofficial theme of Election Thief, with the game frequently dropping frames at inopportune moments, pushing you off non-slippery platforms for inexplicable reasons, and selling you down the river with a bizarre mix of extreme precision and imprecision in controls and platforming.
Levels vary between clever, mean, challenging, rote, and throw-your-phone-across-the-room-because-this-is-bullshit! I found the hardest stages bookended the easiest, with the middle section of the game a relative breeze.
The frustrations wouldn’t be such an issue if Election Thief was kinder about its checkpoints, but it can be devastating to replay an entire chapter several times because you keep losing your last life just shy of the ballot that unlocks a new chapter. The game offsets this a little with Bonus Round replenishments and badges that increase your initial lives count, but they can’t fix a flaw in the design.
Some of the levels get pretty tough, and the Bonus round only does so much to ease the frustration.
Give Peace a Chance
Election Thief makes no attempt to hide its politics, although it tries to distance itself from any real political parties. Election fraud is a major concern in Kenya, where memories of violence in the 2007 elections still ring strong, and developer University of Games has been careful to push messages of peace and justice.
Omu does not resort to violence like the villain Vulture and his henchmen; he keeps up his pursuit until Mr Vulture gets apprehended…well, kind of — there’s a bit of a twist at the end.
Repeated attempts at levels are interspersed with quotes from famous proponents of peace, together with motivational lines that explain just why you must catch the thief — roads will go unpaved, development requires peace, apathy helps the corrupt get away with greed, and so on.
It’s fantastic to see a game from a Kenyan developer, especially one so attuned to the lives of everyday Kenyans, but Election Thief’s charm and novelty only get it so far. It’s well worth trying out, but there’s probably not enough here to justify fighting through to the end.