Dundee-based Denki has been around for just over a decade now, creating games for Sky, Nintendo and many other high-profile publishers. It’s even got an Xbox Live Arcade title on the way in the form of Quarrel… and yet here it is, releasing an Xbox Live Indie Games title! Bizarre.
Juggle! shows exactly what happens when a veteran developer studio works its magic on what should in reality be a pretty boring concept. Playing keepy-uppy is not something I’d normally enjoy all that much, yet here there’s so much style and wisdom injected into the most minute details that you can’t help but become addicted.
Players take control of a paddle which moves along a horizontal plane at the bottom of the screen. A single brick falls down the screen, and you must catch it with the paddle and send it bouncing back up. Over time, more bricks are added, and as long as you keep at least one brick airborne, your score will continue to increase.
Let me first make the point that this concept is the entire game. I know what you’re thinking – that sounds utterly dull, and has been done plenty of times before. This thought was playing on my mind to begin with, until I realised just how clever it all was.
Take the controls. You move left and right to catch the bricks as you’d expect – yet as you begin to play, it feels as though there is another force at work other than yourself. You soon realise that your movement is being restricted so that catching the bricks is easier! An example: A brick is falling on the right, and is about to fall off the screen. You rush your paddle over to the right, and as you get just beneath the brick, your paddle starts to move a little slower, even if you’re still holding right.
That might sound a little strange, but honestly, you have to play the game to understand how genius it is. It’s as if you’re telling a machine where to move next, and the machine is taking your order and calculating the precision. The combination of manual and automatic movement makes it all so much more fun, as you’ll eventually be juggling 8+ bricks at once.
As a brick hits your paddle, it shrinks in size and starts to move more quickly. The smaller and quicker the brick, the more points you’ll score every time it hits your paddle – although obviously it makes them harder to catch too. With this in mind, Paddle! is far more tactical than you’d expect. It’s not just about keeping those bricks up – it’s about giving certain bricks priority too.
While it’s all extremely addictive, as you’d expect there’s only so much you can do before you’ve seen it all. There are special 3-min, 5-min and endless modes, while the multiplayer sees either you and a friend against each other or partnering up in three separate modes which, in the grand scheme of things, are all slight variations on the main theme.
This is Juggle‘s only real problem – it may be cleverly designed and well produced, but at the end of the day, it’s still a simple keepy-uppy minigame. Hence, you’ll have fun for a little while, but pretty quickly you’ll grow bored and stop playing.
Juggle! oozes so much personality, that I’m not really sure where to begin! Seeing your Xbox avatar’s reflection in the glass of the games cabinet is very satisfying and very cool, while the old school cabinet itself is a really nice touch. You don’t exactly feel like you’re playing on an ancient machine, but it still looks the part.
There’s no music in Juggle! which I thought was a rather odd choice – I mean, I can see the angle Denki was going for with the chimes ringing out every time a block hits the paddle, but a jingle in the background could have given the whole thing an extra edge – maybe if it had started off simple, then added layers as more blocks were added. Either way, the chimes are adequate, although you may well mute the TV and stick some music on.
Apart from ‘avatar plays Juggle game on games cabinet’, there isn’t really a story to tell. Not that the concept needed one, of course.
Unsurprisingly, Juggle! looks and feels so much more learned than the majority of XBLIG titles you’ll play. Denki clearly knows exactly what it’s doing, and this shines through in Juggle‘s severe addictiveness and clever implementation.
Whether or not you want to pay $3 (240 MS Points) for what is essentially a keepy-uppy simulator is up to you. At best, you’ll probably get a max of 2 hours play from the game, although the majority of players will probably be worth within the hour.
I’ll tell you what, though – hopefully this is the first of many releases from Denki on the XBLIG channel, as I’d love to see more from them.