Popcap and Battery

A feature I wrote about PopCap and it’s publishing imprint 4th and Batter for the website www.square-go.com

When World of Warcaft, the world conquering online multiplayer game, released it’s latest expansion pack Cataclysm, it was a big deal. Normally, game publishers would run away like a bunch of scared orphans when a behemoth franchise like Warcraft announces a release date. One company had the chutzpah to not only stay their ground but also release a sequel to one of their games on the same date as the Warcraft expansion.

The game was Bejewelled 3 and the company was PopCap. And you know what? Honours were pretty much even.

It says something about PopCap that they are confident enough to go up against the most hardcore of the hardcore games. Long vilified as a company that ‘only makes casual games’, in recent years PopCap has become a critical darling. With the releases of video game crack like Peggle and Plants Vs Zombies, not to mention the hiring of US gaming journalist legend Jeff Green as Director of Editorial and Social Media, no one has a bad thing to say about them. Even Warcraft made it so you can play Peggle whilst waiting for your next raid.

So now PopCap has diversified with a new publishing imprint, 4th & Battery. There have been two releases so far under this imprint, both free and available on the iOS store.

The first release was Unpleasant Horse, a platform game casting you as the eponymous Unpleasant Horse. Your goal is to jump from cloud to cloud and score points by jumping onto a normal horse, weighing it down until it falls into the rotating saw blades at the bottom of the level before jumping to safety. Yes, the aim of the game is to push horses into rotating saw blades causing their bloody demise.

The game is a fun one trick pony (excuse the pun) in that the main aim is to beat your top score. There isn’t much depth to it but in the One Button Jump Genre that has exploded in the last few years it can hold it’s head up. It’s no Robot Unicorn Attack but then again very few things are.

The follow up game is called Candy Train. From the description it was an earlier PopCap idea that was picked up and worked on by one of their engineers. Again the idea is very simple and one that will be very familiar to anyone who has played games like Locomotion and Pipemania. You have a grid of tiles with jumbled up train tracks, you tap a square to rotate it to line it up with the other train tracks in order to create a complete route around the level. The Candy Train then trundles around the track, your goal here to guide the train to pick up specific candy-themed carriages that appear through out the level. Once you collect a certain number of cars a station appears which when you enter gives you a score and it’s straight onto the next level.

Again, this is a simple idea well executed without any great depth. The goal is to beat your last score and gets quite pleasantly frantic as you get further into it with the speed of the train increasing. It is a universal app and is one worth playing on the iPad, the small iPhone screen sometimes makes it tricky to hit the right square, especially when you’re in a hurry.

Whilst the two games are quite simple, this is off set by the fact that both are free. Both are well designed, have nice art styles and more importantly are fun little games to play. They won’t keep you enthralled for weeks and weeks the same way Peggle did, but they are still well worth downloading.

If this is what 4th & Battery will be, a breeding ground for ideas that aren’t developed enough to support a full PopCap release but deserve to be put into the hands of games players, then that is a pretty good deal for everyone. This kind of development model isn’t new, recent downloadable games Stacking and Costume Quest came from a similar idea within the developer Double Fine. And let’s be honest, in a world where most of the big triple A games have you staring down gun barrels running through brown worlds, more games from a company like PopCap is no bad thing.

Originally published June 21st 2011


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