I’m fortunate to have some really clever friends who sometimes make excellent things, and often these things are video games. Some of them do it for a living, and some ought to be doing it for a living but somehow manage to do it in their spare time instead. One of them has just released a game, and another has a game out at the end of next week, and I figured that I ought to give them both a mention, because both titles are genuinely worthy of your attention.
First up is RunJumpDie, created by James Cope. Jim works for Ruffian Games up in Dundee, and you might know him best as producer of Crackdown 2 on Xbox 360; he also worked on the original Crackdown for Realtime Worlds. RunJumpDie on iOS is his take on one of these endless runner games that everyone loves, with a bit of a nod to the bafflingly popular Flappy Bird, all wrapped up in gloriously retro styling.
RunJumpDie isn’t hard to explain; you have to prevent Mr Jumpy from tumbling to his inevitable death by making him jump between platforms as he sprints along, getting ever faster as the game progresses. You can extend Mr Jumpy’s time in the air by repeatedly tapping on the screen, but you still won’t last long; those platforms come along fast but not especially thick. You run, you jump, you die, you restart. It’s simple and infuriating and just the sort of thing that could accidentally become a worldwide smash hit, and naturally it’s only 69p on the App Store.
It’s also helped along by a jaunty little tune by Barry Island, another friend who, when he’s not making music for other people’s games or working a proper day job, is half of gonzo developer Infinite State Games. After making nowhere near enough of an impact with their excellent Frutorious – perhaps best described as a fruit-based cross between Angry Birds and Rainbow Islands, and still very much available for iOS – they’ve managed to wangle themselves onto Playstation Vita and produce Don’t Die, Mr Robot!, a gloriously frantic arcade avoid-em-up with plenty of fruit. Because what’s the point of video games without fruit?
The basic game’s about avoiding the very many robots that swarm across the screen, and the fruit adds extra flavour; it explodes – taking out any nearby robots – when you touch it, and if there’s enough fruit about you can set off a chain reaction with added score multiplier. So while it’s fairly easy to avoid death and swat little groups of robots by grabbing fruit as they appear, it’s not a way to score loads of points; to do that you need to hold your nerve and wait until the screen’s thick with fruit. I try to wait until there are about 30 on screen before I collect my first fruit. It’s a high risk strategy that can pay off in loads of points.
It’s an excellent mix of risk, reward and claustrophobia, where one tiny slip can lose you your only life and end your game within a few seconds. You can stack the odds a little more in your favour by collecting coins (another tick in the old-skool box) and spending them on power-ups that’ll help you to survive a little longer, but the real kudos comes in getting a decent score in Pure mode, without any artificial enhancements. That way you can spend your coins on costumes and hats and guest stars (including Eggsy out of leading Welsh rap combo Goldie Lookin Chain because why not) instead.
The graphics have a lovely retro arcade feel to them, the sound’s fantastic (including music plus a soundtrack for the main arcade mode that’s generated by things appearing on-screen, and voiceovers by my other half) and there are enough game modes to keep you going for ages, plus a load of Remixes: mini-missions each with their own themes. My only real problem with it is that the controls feel a bit twitchy at first, which can be a nightmare when you’re short on manoeuvring space. Practice helps.
It’s a whole lot of game that won’t cost you very much, and while I’m naturally inclined to look favourably upon my friends’ games, I was actually surprised at just how good – and dangerously compelling – DDMR (as all the cool kids are calling it) is. If you bought your Vita for TxK and you’re stuck for something else to play, you should definitely take a look when it comes out on 29 October; it’s in a similar ball park and much better for a really quick game. Even though you’ll end up having lots of one more goes.