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Furmins: Super Stardust dev's riskiest game yet

Cut the Rope meets The Incredible Machine...

Physics based action-puzzle games are a dime a dozen on the App store, so the idea of another one might not spur much excitement.

While the fairly generic exterior of Furmins might not demand your attention though, the pedigree of its developer certainly does. Housemarque is one of the premier developers of Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network games.

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Casual games are nothing new to Housemarque, but people always remember it for its last three games, and with good reason. It's breakthrough title, Super Stardust HD, was released early in the PlayStation 3's life but still ranks highly among the platform's must-have games.

Its top down zombie shoot 'em up Dead Nation captures the fun of local couch co-op like few other modern games can and Outland is a beautiful homage to classics such as Metroid, Castlevania and Ikaruga.

While the studio's latest project, Furmins, largely sticks to a safe, proven blueprint made popular by Cut the Rope and the avalanche of iterative clones clogging up Apple's store, Housemarque's latest venture is arguably its riskiest, most ambitious yet.

Furmins is the first step in its vision of becoming a self-publishing studio, and from what we've played looks to be a good start.

The biggest obstacles the studio faces is distinguishing its game in a crowded genre and staying relevant to an audience with a notoriously short attention span. But early indications suggests it's well aware of these hurdles.

PICTURESQUE

Furmins has a lot of unique aspects to it, not the least of which is its classic oil painting-inspired visuals. Discerning eyes may recognised the soft, natural tones as bearing a resemblance to the intensely colorful backgrounds from Outland, and they'd be right to draw that comparison. The hand-painted style of Furmins is the work of the same artist.

That's not the only thing the two games have in common. Furmins is developed using Detonation, the engine powering Outland. Along with that the sound effects are the handiwork of the same audio wizard behind Angry Birds and the designed-to-take-permanent-residence-in-your-brain music is supplied courtesy of the musical mind behind Bejewelled's devilishly hummable tunes.

Like all good iOS games the premise is very simple: deliver the fuzzy Furmins to the goal, where a cuddly bird-like creature awaits. At its core is a combination of the set-up-and-go gameplay of PC classic The Incredible Machine mixed with a bit of real-time interaction.

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The player must place the objects scattered around the screen in a way that will guide the Furmins to the goal once the guiding hand of physics comes into play.

More often than not the first time isn't a charm, so there's a degree of trial-and-error to figuring out how to get the bemused-looking fuzzballs home. Fortunately the iteration time keeps things satisfying, it's quick and easy identify where things have gone wrong and use the various platforms, blocks and springs to remedy the situation.

Once the virtual 'play' button is pressed the Furmins become slaves to the physics, but that doesn't mean player interaction comes to an end. Each level contains different features which can be used to steer the Furmins towards to goal.

Springs, conveyor belts and the like are all controlled using a universal tap mechanic which, as the name suggests, is triggered by getting your grubby prints on the screen.

The short demo we were given had a mixture of levels oriented around interaction, editing and a hybrid of both, and we were told there's an even mixture of all throughout.

STAR PERFORMANCE

Delivering the Furmins to the goal is rewarded with stars. As well as denoting your physics manipulating competence the stars can also be used as currency to unlock additional stages, artwork and other "surprises" yet to be unveiled.

Stars will also be purchasable through in-game transactions, so those unwilling or unable to unlock new stages through natural progression can cough up a bit of cash and play through la carte.

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According to the studio it has a lengthy list of updates and plans to keep players well fed with regular, substantial, content updates comprising new levels and even the odd new feature or two.

Early signs are promising, Furmins bears the hallmarks of both a good iOS and Housemarque game. Like its previous efforts it's about simple, stripped down design supported by intuitive controls and satisfying gameplay.

We look forward to spending many a lunch break/commute/boring conversation saving the little critters from January.

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