What happens when you bring together four engineers and one über-artist, all sharing a rich background in both game design and development experience on a “very popular 3D earth-rendering application,” lock them all in a studio in Boulder, Colo., and let them loose on the iPhone SDK?
Well, you get Backflip Studios. Pretty obvious really, if you think about it.
You also get Ragdoll Blaster ($1.99, iTunes link), quite simply one of the most engaging, frustrating, enjoyable and addictive games now available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
In Backflip’s own words;
Ragdoll Blaster is an action-filled puzzle game that combines the fun of firing ragdolls from cannons with the challenge of increasingly difficult levels to solve.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found enormous pleasure in firing ragdolls from cannons. In fact, I’ve often found myself pondering, “Wouldn’t it be great if there were some way to evoke that doll-blasting joy, anytime, any place – even without requisite ragdolls and artillery at hand?” I’m quite sure you’ve often pondered the very same thing.
So you’ll be delighted to learn that Backflip has done precisely that — and for a first release, they’ve done a job that even the most discerning ragdoll-blasting aficionado will find hard to criticize.
Gameplay is simple; you control a cannon. Your cannon fires ragdolls. There is a large red target. You must hit the target with a ragdoll.
I’m not being contrite. This really is the entire point of Ragdoll Blaster. And you will love it.
Predictably enough, the game’s developers don’t want it to be easy for you, and so have placed obstacles in your line-of-fire. As you progress through the game, you must find increasingly inventive ways to interact with your environment in order to hit the target – and the obstacles are many and varied.
Early levels employ simple puzzles, such as firing your ragdoll over a wall. The difficulty soon ramps up into some bewildering levels, with falling boulders, spring-loaded platforms, pistons, gears, buttons, motors and lots more.
Remember when video game consoles got really serious? I think it was about the time Sony got in on the game with the Playstation. Big console manufacturers like Sega and Nintendo had traditionally hawked their wares on the strength of franchises such as Sonic and Mario. Sometimes there would be the occasional reference to their console’s processing power, but the focus was primarily focused on the latest games.
With the Playstation (and particularly the PS2 and today’s seventh-generation machines) all the talk seems to be about physics engines. Because, y’know, physics engines make things realistic and more challenging and, like, way cool. In the video game industry, you’re nobody if you haven’t mentioned physics engines at least once. (And I’ve mentioned them three times so far in just this single paragraph — if I worked in the games industry, I’d be considered a guru by now!)
And so Backflip Studios also talks physics engines, partially because that makes it a somebody, but also because it’s like, totally way cool. No, really. Backflip used the Open Dynamics Engine (which I’d also never heard of, but have to assume is both Very Complicated and Awfully Clever) to bring a degree of realism to the game’s odd little world. In fact, mastering Ragdoll Blaster’s particular flavor of physics is essential if you’re going to stand a chance at completing each level.
That might sound like a lot of hard work, but it’s actually a cinch. In fact, a big part of what makes Ragdoll Blaster so much fun are its intuitive controls; as you might expect, everything is achieved with simple finger-taps on the screen; there’s no multi-touch two-handed-gameplay-complexity going on here, nor the need to tilt the device (particularly useful when playing this game lying down). I love accelerometer-enhanced functionality in my games, but not when it dictates I hold the device in a very specific, and sometimes fairly uncomfortable, manner — such as in Super Monkey Ball.
And then there’s the music. How do I describe the music?
Have you ever seen that Stanley Kubrick movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey”? If you’re a geek, of course you have, and you know it’s awesome. Once you get past the “Dawn of Man” scenes, and you’re up in space following the shuttle on its way to the moon, it’s time to rock out to Strauss’ “An der schönen blauen Donau” (“On the Beautiful Blue Danube”). And it really is beautiful, isn’t it? A bizarre — but strangely appropriate — marriage of 19th century classical music with 21st century technology.
Backflip Studios (kinda) managed to pull off the same unlikely meld of 19th century sweeping composition (in this case, Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King) with the very 21st century art of touch-powered Ragdoll Blasting. I never in my life could have imagined needing to write a sentence like that. Ever.
It’s all deeply silly, and fantastically good fun. There are 73 levels in this first release of the game, which is priced at a reasonable $1.99. To get a sense of the gameplay you can view some YouTube videos here and here.
Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would be unimpressed with this game. It’s got fiendishly fun puzzles, a classical score, an impressive physics engine — and best of all, that perfect union of Ragdolls and Cannons. I dare you not to love it.