Thousands of years ago, in a cave....
We hear about new video games every day. Sometimes they're Kickstarter campaigns or they're looking for more votes on Steam Greenlight. Many of them are iPhone games. I should say that many of them are bad iPhone games. Luckily, two names caught my attention among the avalanche of new games: Conrad Schmidt and Frank Agnone.
In particular, it was the shared credits that really caught my eye. Conrad Schmidt has animated for Spaceballs, Robot Chicken, and one of my favorite cartoons of all time: Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Frank Agnone, on the other hand, has helped produce South Park over the years. The duo have released their first game for the iOS platform, Feast or Famine, and between the two of them, there's gotta be at least a few good ideas, right?
Feast or Famine is a cross between the ever-popular 2D autorunners that have flooded the iTunes App Store, and a game about a very small economy that players have to manage as they're playing. As your character is running along, birds and bison and power-ups will pop up on-screen. Tapping on the right side controls your jump (holding your finger down will allow for larger leaps), but you also have to control your spear-throwing as you navigate each level.
Where you tap on the left side of the screen determines your spear's arc, but you can hold your finger down and fine-tune your aim if you want. This uses more of the meat-energy bar but for every animal you successfully hunt, you'll gain energy back. At the end of the level, you'll be scored on time, meat-energy, and the percentage of game you successfully hit in the level.
Levels and game structure follow Angry Birds in that you'll complete packs of levels each more difficult than the last. Feast or Famine's gameplay is fun, and there's plenty of it. Gameplay and controls are tight and fast. Take too long to hunt down the bison in your way and your meat-energy will dry up fast. Speed through without hitting many targets and you won't score very high, either.
Occasionally, I ran into crazy difficulty spikes, but practice makes perfect. Knowing where a tar pit waits or that you need to conserve meat-energy for a long dry spell at the end of a level can trip you up. But now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
Feast or Famine's art design and style consists of equal parts Saturday-morning cartoon and dramatic fine lines with lots of color. Your cave-painting avatar bounces up and down, scrambles over ledges and grunts excitedly. Yes, you're killing helpless cave-painting cows and birds, but I think the PETA statute of limitations has dried up over the centuries.
When your speed is amped up and you can catch cows, tapping the fire button makes your cave-man dropkick the bovine. Landing in tar results in a splat and a few bubbles. Even the level select screen is made up of sharply drawn constellations of levels and stars.
As much as I like the style, it can be difficult to see every target on screen, which means it's also very easy to miss when you fire your spear. This problem is helped by the iPad's larger screen and graphics, but not solved. The speed also adds to the difficulty, so younger gamers used to slowly slinging Birds might get frustrated fast.
Still, Feast or Famine has everything it takes to be the next big iPhone game. There's plenty of content for just $.99 and the arcade gameplay marries speed and and action. Yes, there are microtransactions and earning every bone may feel like a grind, but you can pass the time perfecting levels for three-star scores. If you have an iOS device, you should play this game.