Friday, 16 November 2012

Funky Smugglers - Thoughts

Airport security, by all accounts, can be a somewhat dehumanizing experience. You can't take liquids through checkpoints, you have to take your shoes off to show you don't have a stiletto knife stashed between your toes, and if you look like you might be a bit suspicious you're likely to have a prolonged and intimate experience with a rubber glove. But at least we don't have to pass through an X-ray scanner and have our belongings wrenched away from us by an unseen hand.

Funky Smugglers, the new Android and iOS game from 11 Bit Studios, gives you the chance to BE that unseen hand. As passengers pass through the X-ray screen, contraband items they've stashed upon their persons show up in red. Your task is to flick those items away before they board the plane, to ensure that no-one can attempt to hijack a plane with a pair of scissors. As more passengers pass through, the speed at which they move increases, and the difficulty ramps up.

For a while this seems like a perfectly simple and fairly basic game - flick red item until too fast to flick red item any more. But some score-attack games have mechanics that are not intially apparent, which once discovered make the game blossom like a cherry tree. Ikaruga's colour-chaining, Tony Hawk's manuals and reverts, and Joe Danger's wheelies are all fine examples. Funky Smugglers' secret weapon is tossing (fnar fnar). You can only hold onto contraband items for a limited amount of time, as shown by the ring that appears as you touch them and rapidly disappears. By quickly tapping them again, you can toss the items and thereby reset the timer, and thus open up the possiblities for ridiculous multipliers and high scores you could not have dreamed of previously. This feedback loop is absurdly compelling, and ultimately what hooked me - each time I felt I needed to keep tossing those items, bump that multiplier up, just get one more fix of the voiceover saying "ULTIMATE COMBO, BRO!" (This may be the first, and only, time I have enjoyed a videogame referring to me as '"bro")

The game has several other tricks up its sleeve to compel you into playing just one more game. If you're connected to the itnernet you can throw your weight behind team battles - the player base is split into two teams and any points you earn go towards a team total. How the mighty Vaders lost to the Donalds is a mystery I shall take to my grave. At any one time you have 3 additional missions to complete - challenges such as throwing so many items to the top or sides of the screen, or getting X amount of points with tossing - that reward you with coins, which you can spend on a variety of cosmetic upgrades. Most of these, such as new textures for your X-ray scanner, or new items for your passengers, are largely inconsequential, although buying the 2 additional music tracks should be mandatory, as each of the three songs in Funky Smugglers are utterly superb. If you can't be arsed to play for the coins you can purchase them with real money, which sat uneasily with me at first. I'm not a big fan of in-app purchases in paid games, but these are largely unintrusive, bypass the trap of pay-to-win, and frankly the core game was addictive enough that earning the coins through diligent security checks was quite enough.

All in all, Funky Smugglers is one of the finest timewasters I've found on Android, and one of the few score-attack games that has me itching to beat my own scores. The many little hooks that the game lays will get under your skin, and create a compelling experience that is fun for just a quick game or a ridiculously intense, swearing-filled marathon. Airport security never felt so good.

Funky Smugglers is out now for Android and iOS.

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