Out today on iOS, quirky platformer Food Run comes from Edinburgh based one-man-developer Pixels On Toast, also known as Kevin Ng. With Rockstar Games, EA and Warthog sitting happily on his CV, Ng formed Pixels On Toast in 2010 and produced titles WordCrasher and Kick Flick Soccer. Food Run is his follow up and we caught up with him to talk about the brightly coloured and ever-so-slightly fiendish platformer of walking edibles.
The concept is stylishly simple. A little marching faceless egg must explore a hazardous platforming environment, collecting stars and fellow food groups to follow behind him. It’s smartly executed – or should that be eggsecuted… don’t worry, I’m only yolking *promises no more egg based jokes* – and the brightly coloured charming visuals make an ideal fit for Retina displays . Add in varied level design with barber poles to ride, spikes to avoid and nasties to jump over as well as the constant perils of keeping your ‘food chain’ intact and Food Run is an instantly addictive thumb wiggler.
“The idea for the game really came from the visual concept of a little line of food with legs following each other a little slightly too closely,” Ng explains. “The characterisation for Food Run was all about what not to add, rather than what to add. The lack of eyes and arms for the food characters is a simple but important omission.” Ng is happy to leave any back story behind – lets’s be honest, do we really believe the Angry Birds would let the pigs steal that many eggs? – and focus on making an addictive platformer. “It’s intentionally left unstated as the what the nature of the food characters is – are they real food come to life, or people in suits?” Ng wonders. “There’s no need for an unwieldy back story, and in my opinion sometimes things are better left unsaid. As creators, we should be brave enough to do this – to leave gaps that the audience can fill for themselves.”
Embracing his independent nature, Ng appreciates the freedom he has to bring something a little different to the table – knife and fork at the ready. “At previous companies, I’ve seen focus testing affect character design so much, adding elements more in common with other games, such that the unique appeal of the game is completely eroded,” he says. “It’s really sad to see this happen – watch a unique and characterful idea be reduced to some kind of grey average sludge. Being independent means I can make sure not to fall into this kind of trap.”
Using only one button to control the jumps through the themed levels of Food Run – these include snowscapes and an entire set of levels built around desserts – it’s instantly an intuitive experience. With the recent successes of games such as Ubisoft’s Rayman Jungle Run, it seems that more and more mobile developers are experimenting with a simple one finger control system and Ng agrees. “Single touch control means that the interface gets out of the way, and the game can become really instinctual,” he says. “There is only one possible interaction to make, so the player can act instantly without first looking at the screen to find the button to press, for example. Freed of distraction, the player can concentrate more on what’s going on in the game world.”
In Food Run this means that you can focus entirely on where your little eggy friend will end up. Be it sliding down honeyfied walls and avoiding spikes with small jumps or trying to collect fellow food types to march along behind you with brave leaps into the hazard filled air. “The goal was to have this really narrow interface, but then behind it, a broader more expansive game design,” Ng explains. “The breadth of the enemies, traps, and special blocks combined in the level designs are intended to provide the depth and complexity. I grew up on the Mario games, particularly Super Mario World, and it has always seemed a shame that nobody has truly managed to bring this kind of knockabout, chaotic platform gameplay to iOS yet. The theory with Food Run is that if you can give people a simple interface onto this kind of gameplay, they can experience some of the things that usually only an expert player of something like Mario or Sonic gets to see.”
Playing through one of the 40 stylish levels is certainly like a trip to the gym for avid platformers. Stars lurk in unlikely places that can only be accessed with a perfectly timed jump and fellow food types to join your chain will often be surrounded by flying risks to your delicate shell. It’ll take more than one run of each course to perfect each one which is ideal for that iOS ‘just one more shot’ mentality. The difficulty is pleasingly difficult and that’s exactly what Ng wants. “Sometimes you have to make pixel perfect shots and retry a level many times before you get through,” he tells us. “It’s testament to their design that this isn’t a barrier to casual audiences. For Food Run, keeping the levels small (run times are between 1 minute and 2 minutes) meant I could up the challenge significantly without making the game too frustrating. It was also important to use the 100% completion elements (collect all food, collect all stars) to provide a stiffer challenge to more experienced players. I think sometimes we underestimate our audiences on iOS and miss out on the opportunities that providing a challenge can bring to a game.”
The bright visuals are accompanied by a joyful soundtrack to accompany your perilous food collecting trips. Written by TV and media composer Skip Peck, the music is ideal for trotting along with hot dogs on legs.“After searching for a while for some suitable music, I chanced upon [Peck’s] Polka pieces,” says Ng. “Marrying his music up with the game seemed like the missing puzzle piece, and really helped to inform the tone of the game.”
Addictive, quirky and fun, Food Run is a slick and enjoyable time sink and a familiar platforming experience with a few fiendish twists. Fans of perfect jumps and the quest for collectibles should have a field day, while more casual gamers will find plenty of levels to speed through. Hope you’re hungry.
Name: Food Run
Developer: Pixels on Toast
Release date: Out now
Platform: iOS universal app (requires iOS 4.3 or greater)
Launch price: £0.69/$0.99/€0.89
Genre: Level-based platformer
iCloud save sync: Yes
Game Center: Yes