In some ways, spinning off a small experimental studio from PopCap makes a lot of sense.
The company has established a very strong reputation for making high quality casual titles that are so polished you can see your reflection in them.
But it’s also something of a ‘happy’ company - one where violence or malice is shunned in favour of spectacle-wearing worms, hungry frogs, and Fever Time. Nobody can object to Fever Time.
4th & Battery’s Unpleasant Horse just wouldn’t have fitted with the company image - here’s a game where you play a horse on a mission to effectively slaughter other horses in a massive meat-grinder. A very un-threatening looking horse, true, but certainly unpleasant.
Ironically, the game itself is a fairly pleasant little time-waster, but it lacks the ability to be anything more.Horse of war
The game takes the form of a horizontal endless jumping game in which you move from left to right, hopping onto clouds, stealing birds’ feathers, and ‘mounting’ pearly white horses.
Controlling your horse is entirely performed through a tap-to-jump system, with your equine avatar either automatically latching onto a target with a direct tap or vaulting in the chosen direction should you tap thin air.
Grabbing a feather from a passing bird allows you to store up a double-jump, but in the main you’ll be looking out for the high-scoring white horses (technically resembling the mythical Pegasus) to leap on top of, causing both horses to drop into the meat grinder on the ground.
The longer you remain on your (we presume) female mount, the more points you score, the main risk coming from waiting too long to leap away from the grinder and getting minced yourself.Popping horses
Despite not technically being from PopCap, there’s still an air of the company’s handiwork present in Unpleasant Horse.
From the soothing strings of the Blue Danube waltz (acting as counterpoint to the vicious meat grinding) to the quality artwork and neat little details such as the white horses crying as they plummet, the game will no doubt get a few wry smiles.
Unfortunately, much like the rapid descent of a mounted horse, it’ll soon end up in the meat grinder of your iPhone’s memory.
This is because - unlike Doodle Jump or Robot Unicorn Attack, which both gradually build in difficulty - Unpleasant Horse keeps throwing you into situations where you either have to sit tight for a few seconds and wait for a bird to appear or make the next jump blind.
It completely breaks up the flow of the game, slowing the pace right down or, in the case of a leap of faith, ending it without good reason.
Even more disappointing is the lack of social integration for bragging or online highscores to aim for. Endless runners/jumpers thrive off competition, so the absence of social features is keenly felt.
As an example of what 4th & Battery could produce in the future, Unpleasant Horse is an interesting title - professional-looking, easy to play, and filled with a dark sense of humour.
The gameplay just needs a bit more of that famous PopCap polish.