[Cute but defenceless being that you need to rescue/feed/launch from] + [multiple worlds within which are contained a huge number of stages that] + [contain all manner of dangers, tricks as wells optional score-boosting collectables that you need to avoid/escape/collect by] + [strategising your moves ahead of time before launch/start, and possibly swipe your fingers in controlled bursts across the screen to survive] = [winning combination].
Surprisingly for what amounts to a goldmine of opportunity, there's a lack of cheap cash-ins on the App Store. Even if there are a wave of quick and easy copycats, the focus on ratings for the Store's browsing functions means you'll only really see the best examples of a genre that's gripped gamers worldwide.
Furmins could well be a title that'll appear on the first screen of that top-rated list.
The premise is familiar, the setup similar; one or more Furmins, cute little fluffballs with big eyes and a worrying ability to roll down holes, need to be guided to a cage within each level. Each level takes up the whole of the iPad screen (or iPhone, were a cheaper version of the same game will be available too). By means both pre-planned and timed, you've got to organise the perfect route for the critters to roll around, with slightly more complex routes needed to pick up the optional stars, the in-game currency, along the way.
The studio behind this is Housemarque, creator of this year's brilliant Outland, and well-respected shooter franchise Super Stardust. A lot of the team behind the former had shifted onto this project, taking the Outland graphics engine with them, and shows it, and the team capable of adapting to different styles easily. While the gameplay has a similar disposition to turn challenging relatively quickly, the water-coloured backgrounds recall another XBLA summer title Bastion, rather than the studio's own stark colours and bold blacks that dominated Outland.
Whether the story we're told of the game, growing from a tech demo the developer had tinkered with years early, with only the appearance of iOS devices proving the "eureka" moment for implementation, is a little too pat to be the complete truth, it does provide an additional spin on genre hallmarks.
Levels start with a cluster of moveable objects floating on-screen, such as wood panels and ice blocks. These can be positioned with the a finger over gaps and beside trampolines to guide the Furmins' roll to the level exit. Another tap starts the stage proper, and you watch to see if your physics theory provides the solution.
You're not inactive during this however. There are also simple devices in stages that you can interact with - tapping anywhere on screen will launch every springboard in the level say, timing of which is required to push the still-rolling creatures onto a higher platform, or give them some speed to get up a steep incline. Later levels saw conveyer belts whose direction changed with each tap, requiring some fast finger work to stop Furmins plunging to their death. Added to this, Housemarque starts splitting up the Furmins into different start points, requiring you to keep check on multiple sets simultaneously.
It is, like any good puzzler, deceptively simple. Different as well, in that you'll start spending longer at the level's start, studying each placement and working out the route beforehand, pride wanting you to complete the level perfectly first run round. You won't. But you won't be alone - there'll be plenty of other folk swearing alongside you.
The game's due early next year, with a rough price structure currently putting it a just under three quid on iPad, and under a quid on iPhone.
Come back tomorrow, when we'll have an exclusive interview with the studio, discussing the iOS title and its development history, as well as talking Outland, the possibility of a sequel, and what the future holds.
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