Dodge That Anvil
A finalist in this year's Independent Games Festival (IGF) in the Best Web Browser Game category, Dodge That Anvil is a gorgeous and adorable Shockwave 3D platformer with unique and original gameplay, created by Jake Grandchamp of Rabidlab.
The Eastwarren rabbits were once self-sufficient growing crops and fending for themselves until the day it started raining anvils; that's right, large and heavy anvils began to fall right out of the sky. Now all the bunnies have been forced underground and it's up to you to save them. Brave the elements and harvest food to keep everyone fed while uncovering clues about the mysterious happenings in your once peaceful village.
The game includes several "fields" of platform jumping within which to harvest carrots while dodging anvils and other nasties. To help you along the way, various items can be found, or bought, that grant a special ability or protection from a particular hazard. For example, an armor vest will protect you from a dynamite blast, or from the occasional exploding beach ball. Most items are single-use, meaning once you use it you lose it.
Dodge That Anvil comes with a burrow full of options and features to customize the game exactly to your preference. There are three (3) difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Normal and Expert; as well as support for three (3) different control options: keyboard, mouse and joystick. I found using a joystick—a fairly standard Logitech Dual Action USB gamepad—with this game to be the most gratifying experience of them all. If you don't have a USB gamepad then you should find the keyboard and the mouse work almost equally well. No matter which options you choose to fit your game playing style, an excellent context-sensitive tutorial is available to teach you how to play.
Select the option to enter Field training to be stepped through the basics of the game and get introduced to the game's unique anvil-dodging gameplay. Once you've finished with your training, you will be off hopping, racing around harvesting carrots like a white rabbit.
Analysis: There is much to love about Dodge That Anvil, not the least of which is the fact that Jake has created the entire game himself. Over the course of about a year of development, the game has shaped up to be a very impressive work, and one that is a lot of fun to play.
I love the design and detail of the rich and colorful cartoon graphics. The choice of rich vibrant color makes the game immediately appealing to a broad audience that includes all age groups. I am also impressed by the realistic physics implementation with respect to the perceived weight of the 3D models and the stark contrast between them. For example, the anvils 'feel' significantly heavier than the beach balls by way of their physical behavior and sound effects. The result is a sense of realism and immersion when playing that really makes me jump when I get hit on the head with an anvil. Fantastic!
Besides how the game looks and behaves, what is even more important to me is how it plays. I enjoyed how the player has to watch for what will soon drop on brer rabbit's head, constantly calculating and negotiating every move. This changes the usual mechanics of a classic platformer and adds a new dimension to it. The player challenge is increased through this additional layer of responsibility. The temporary removal of this added burden in a later level, in which the raining anvils are quieted for a spell, seems as sweet as licking the frosting spoon of a cake—while it lasts. But it doesn't last; and we are thrown willy nilly back to the wolves again. With DTA, Jake has created unique and original gameplay with an addictive quality somewhat resembling buttercream.
Jake has also done an exemplary job with the main menu interface and game play options. Every casual game developer should play this game if for no other reason than to see a game interface done right: Every cut scene or intro screen is interruptible; music and sound effects volume can be controlled independently; advanced video options for tweaking the display output and to improve performance; training option screen and pop-up help can both be toggled on and off independently; and many more control options than you can shake a joystick at. By setting default options for difficulty and control, those select screens will be skipped entirely. This streamlines the interface and allows the player to begin the next game quicker and easier. Very, very nice!
When I first discovered this game about a year ago, it disappeared from the Web as quickly and mysteriously as it had arrived. At that time the game was a bit unstable and it crashed often; however, I was immediately drawn to the game's stunning good looks and attention to every detail. Resembling more of a triple-A title console platformer, it was unlike any browser-based game I had ever seen.
Then, almost a year later, the game resurfaced back in late December with the announcement of this year's IGF finalists, and I was delighted at the opportunity to play it once again. Jake has been hard at work readying a final demo of the game for the contest, and the very latest version up this week (b5) is the most stable version yet. And while the playable online version of the game is indeed just a demo, the three (3) difficulty levels and four (4) different fields of play provide enough challenge to keep many a casual gamer happy until the full version becomes available. Click.
Last week, Gamasutra published an interview with Jake on their website about his experiences with the development of the game.