I'd decided to make a game based around the premise of rolling a ball around on a surface, as controlled by tipping a mobile device to control it. I had an inkling of what I wanted. I remember enjoying a game like this at my grandfather's house when I was a child:
I remember that it was long, (about 50 holes) and very challenging. But I remember enjoying it a great deal. How would this premise convert to a video game? I did a quick search in the App Store for "marble game" or something similar, and picked out a few promising games to try.
A cute game by Kakarod Interactive, available in the App Store here. It's a 2d game, not 3d, but that's fine when we're taking a look at gameplay mechanics. The basic idea is that you roll a heavy coin through a wacky machine, pushing lightweight candies along the route ahead of you. At the end, all the candies exit into a funnel and are dispensed to the person who purchased them. You're trying to get all the candies into the funnel, and additionally all the stars along the way if possible.
- Idea: I thought the concept is quite creative; it's a great context for a game about rolling. It feels like the theme would appeal to a wide range of audiences.
- Polish: The visuals and sounds in the game are very polished. Honestly, the audio work is really stellar, from the cute chirpy sounds the candies make, to the music, and also the various interface elements.
- Physics: The feeling of the interface is... weird. Rather than use the orientation of the device absolutely, there seems to be a trigger which says, "pitching left? pitching right?" and imparts a left/right force on the coin only. So the little candies are unaffected by your attempts to save them from the edge, and the coin can never be reclaimed by flipping the screen around completely. The player is expected to manage a not-perfectly-intuitive manipulation of the world.
- Requirements: I only got a few levels into the game before hitting one (shown above) where I could never get quite the required amount of candy to the end. It's frustrating to need to monitor all the candies in addition to the coin, and sometimes things just go flying off screen. Five levels in seemed to be way too early for the game to expect such precision.
Super Monkey Ball 2
Super Monkey Ball is one of the defining titles in the "rolling ball" genre these days—by which I mean that I'd heard of it. The version I played was made by Other Ocean and published by SEGA. The objective is simple: get the monkey to the end of a course. Along the way you can collect bananas which turn into extra lives when you get ten of them.
- Feeling: The game bears all the hallmarks of a very professional operation: pervasive, energetic soundtrack; character selection; replays of what happened; elaborate camera motions to show you the level at the start; visual effects. It feels like a game made by a bigger studio.
- Concept: They've seemingly stripped the game down to the classic premise of a platformer: get to the end. I like it.
- Speed: The character seems to want to go fast. When you really get moving, the monkey is plastered to the interior walls of its ball by centrifugal force. This is great! It's fun.
- Level Design: I thought that the levels I was playing (at the beginning) seem to be well designed, moderately difficult but doable. It feels like the developers didn't skip play testing and made adjustments based on it. Although I didn't play real far into the game, it doesn't feel like I would be outright stuck anytime soon.
- Game Modes: Apparently there are minigames like bowling in there—I haven't seen 'em yet.
- Controls: The developers chose to have you hold the screen up, perpendicular to the floor instead of parallel to it. I didn't care for the resulting interface, which isn't quite driving, isn't quite tipping. If you look at the screenshot above, you see a little gold area in the lower left which indicates whether you're pushing forward or back, left or right. That they felt this was necessary could be seen as an indication that something isn't quite right.
I understand the desire to do it this way; forcing the device to be held flat, as a tabletop would be, makes for an awkward experience also. But it's a tricky tradeoff to make.
- Cutscenes: I was really bored/annoyed by the endless interstitial animations at the start of a level, or the long follow that we make on your character as he or she plummets off of the platform. When I've failed, I want to just restart again quickly, not watch the recap.
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