Angry Birds. Cut the Rope. Tiny Wings. Fruit Ninja. World of Goo. These chart-toppers and many more like them contain an important lesson: to make it in the fiercely competitive world of iPhone casual games, you could do a lot worse than release a game with a decent physics engine.
Sprinkle, from inauspiciously named startup studio Mediocre, looks like a lot of iOS casual games – it has simple, cutesy, slightly offbeat graphics and charming amorphous sprites. Not only that, but it sounds like a lot of iOS casual games – the score is bouncy and inoffensive and the blue drip-like sprites squeak and coo like children's television characters.
But it has an unusual (though not unique) central mechanic, which Mediocre hopes will set it apart from the many other physics-based casual games that will go live on the App Store between now and when Sprinkle lands on August 25th. It's all about water.
The aim of the game is to put out fires. On the left-hand side of the screen there's a crane with a hose attached to the top, and filling the rest of the screen are little blue blobs, the houses in which the little blue blobs live, ledges, burrows, platforms, tunnels, boulders, blocks, moving parts, and – crucially – fires.
Put it out!
To put out these fires you need to aim water at them from your crane-mounted hose, but the various obstacles and topographical features described in the paragraph above mean that bringing water in contact with flame is rarely as straightforward as pointing your hose at it.
You need to aim your jet of water into tunnels, dislodge boulders with it, create bridges for it pass over, spin spokes with it, and so on.
The whole game hinges on the water's beautifully rendered fluidity. As in real life, the fires don't just disappear the moment water comes in contact with them. You need to sustain the flow until the last flame dies.
Because you only have a limited amount of water at your disposal you need to try and maximise its effect, for example by aiming the jet so that it crashes into one fire and then cascades onto another fire below. You angle the nozzle by moving your finger vertically anywhere on the screen, and you raise and lower the crane by tapping it directly.
At the end of each level you get a certain number of drips depending on how much water you used, and if you run out of water or a house burns down you fail the level. You unlock levels using the drips you've accumulated, so it's sometimes necessary to replay earlier levels and do better. You know the drill.
In the very early levels the solution is usually obvious - success is down to careful aim rather than mental prowess. But the levels soon become trickier, so that you have to plan the order in which you dislodge blocks, for example, and conserve your water carefully.
There are some satisfying moments in which Mediocre makes the most of the game's fluid dynamics. At one point, for instance, to dislodge a heap of boulders blocking a j-shaped tunnel you need to angle your jet towards the top of the heap so that the water can rush through the narrow gap, swill up the curve of the 'j', then dislodge the boulders on its way back down.
We got to level 13 during our time with Sprinkle, and there appears to be 34 levels in the full game at launch, the last 12 of which you need to pay for with a 69p in-app purchase that unlocks the other levels in the game if you haven't already done so by earning drips.
Sprinkle's centrepiece is undoubtedly its fluid dynamics. The virtual water looks and behaves as much like water as you could hope except in one respect: rather than gathering in pools, it fizzes away if left standing for more than a couple of seconds.
The murky depths
Inevitably, in the first 13 levels at least, the other elements of the game pale slightly in comparison. While Sprinkle is undoubtedly solid, it lacks the spark and ingenuity of games like World of Goo and Cut the Rope in its early puzzles.
The second two-thirds of the game may remedy this, of course, and the levels in the trailer below certainly look more elaborate than the ones we played.
That there are only 34 levels in the game is a little underwhelming, particularly since you have to pay for the last 12.
There's still time for Mediocre to include some more levels before the game goes live in a couple of weeks, but the chances are we'll have to wait for an update to see Sprinkle in its full glory. Even so, it's well worth checking out in its current state.
Sprinkle will be available on iOS for 69p/99c and Android Tegra devices for around the same price from August 25th.