Today iOS-newcomer Hidden Variable Studios launched their first title, Bag It!. It is a Tetris-like puzzle game in which you must successfully fit a variety of groceries into a bag avoiding crushing the likes of Lucky the cereal box, Sunshine the orange juice, Crusteau the bread, Sir Eggward the eggs and a number of other culinary characters.
To place an item in the bag, you simply drag it off the conveyor belt and into the bag. You can rotate items to get them to fit, but you have to be careful what items you stack on top of one another, and from how high you drop them into the bag, otherwise you might quickly find yourself with a crushed carton of eggs or a bag of broken chips. Items can be shifted around once in the bag, but only if there is an open space for them to fit.
The robustness of the content in just the initial release is impressive. Offering a total of 6 different aisles of entertainment (game modes) there is plenty of content to keep Bag It! fresh. Start off by playing the 16 levels of Got Split?. In this mode you must try to fit all of the grocery items (which incrementally appear on the conveyor belt) safely and securely into your bag. You earn up to a three star rating depending on your point level and ability to keep from breaking any items. Along with the stars you have a chance to earn a total of two badges per level which may require you to create a particular combination of items in the bag (like putting the milk next to OJ) or make sure all items are bagged upright, etc. One feature I particularly like is that as you progress through the levels, these badge tasks will become a little more cryptic, ie. “balanced breakfast” or “nice melons” requiring the player to figure out what combination of items said combo entails. You also earn points based on the fill percentage of your shopping bag. These bonus point goals add another fun layer to the puzzle aspect of the game.
In later levels a timer is introduced and the concept of strikes, which allow for up to three items to be crushed before the level is deemed a failure. At the conclusion of a level (just before the scoring) you have the opportunity to tilt your device to shift the contents of the bag, to perhaps keep an item from breaking. In some ways the game reminds me a bit of Utopian Game’s Tumble Jumble (another app which I also rather enjoyed!). The second aisle is Udder Mayhem, which completely flips the goal of the game. Instead of protecting the food, you are actually trying to crush it. So throw out everything your Mom taught you about bagging the groceries, it’s time to get destructive! Your badge tasks now involve things like “Protect Crusteau!” or “Break 8 Eggs”. In some ways this mode is actually more challenging than the first as you will have to constantly rearrange items in the bag to allow avenues for crushing while protecting other certain grocery items as well. The third mode is Fresh Squeeze and it is a straight out puzzle mode. You start off with a bag already containing some times (usually one or more are in danger of being crushed) and you must rearrange the existing items as well as add the items from the shelf to fill the bag (and complete the badge objectives).
The final three aisles are endless modes, Ultimage Bagger!, Endless Rampage, and Power Surge. Ultimate Bagger! has you attempting to fill as many bags as possible in the given time limit, with time and point bonuses awarded based on how full your completed bags are. Endless Rampage will have you trying to crush as many items as possible within the given time limit, with bonuses awarded for multi-item combos. Finally, Power Surge is similar to Ultimage Bagger!, except that items that are not unloaded off the belt in a timely manner are zapped by a deadly laser causing you to lose valuable time. Time bonuses are also awarded in this mode based on completed bag fullness.
The badges and stars can all be earned independently from one another, encouraging replay. However, one feature that is notably absent is Bag It!’s lack of global leaderboard or achievement support via Game Center or OpenFeint (though they are coming soon). You earn per-level scores and additional content is unlocked based on the number of stars and badges you earn, but there is currently no way to compare your score with other players. Since I have the a universal app version of the game, one other feature that I wished it had was iCloud syncing so progress would be synchronized between my iPhone and iPad. I know this is running a bit long, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the cute adorable characters, colorful graphics and funny animations. Hidden Variable Studios have done a brilliant job creating what could easily become an expanding universe of food-based characters that everyone can relate to and who are a welcome and cheery site on your iDevice screen.
In conclusion, Hidden Variable Studios makes a rather impressive App Store debut with Bag It!, a fun puzzle game with a Tetris-like gameplay elements that will appeal to players of all skill levels. While global leaderboards and achievements are unfortunately absent at launch, the developers have assured me that they are already in the works. The variety of level-based and endless game play modes as well as badge missions add a huge amount of replayability to game’s initial 48-level offering. Fun and often strategical, Bag It! will challenge both your reflexes and synapses. I highly recommend putting this one in your own App Store shopping bag.