Juggle! on App Store: £0.59 / $0.99 / €0.79

Another good end to the week – Juggle!, Denki’s new arcade game, launches on the App Store today, exactly one month after launching our first game, Denki Blocks!

If you haven’t heard about the game yet, Juggle! is Denki’s heartfelt tribute to the classic arcade games we grew up with. It’s a trip back in time to the origins of arcade games that captures the 1970’s vibe, but we’ve enriched the experience with some contemporary twists like friends leaderboards and achievements. Personally, I find the resulting blend absolutely intoxicating – the good kind of intoxicating – and at only £0.59/$0.99 it’s much cheaper than a bottle of beer!

Here it is in action:


As Gary explained earlier in his “Getting Juggly With It” article we wanted to design a game that could have existed from the earliest days of video gaming, with the intention of evolving it through the decades later if it proved popular with players. The idea of iterating the game design and aesthetic “live” (so to speak) by delivering Super Juggle!, Jugglinoid! and finally Juggle! Evolved is exactly the sort of thing Gary and I have been excited about trying even before we started Denki. The infrastructure to deliver that in any sort of commercially appropriate way simply hasn’t existed until very recently, but now it’s here we can’t wait to see how people react to the approach.

I’ve always liked Bat and Ball based video games since I first played a clone of Pong on my family TV back in the late 70’s (I’m not *quite* old enough to have played it in the arcade!). We had one of those TV entertainment systems with four variations of Pong, called Tennis, Football, Hockey and Squash. However, my favourite was always the rather overlooked “5th Mode” – Practice. It was always a hassle trying to find someone to play with, so instead I spent most of my time inventing fun new games I could play on my own with the Practice mode. Of course, all that practice eventually made it even harder to find someone to play with!

When my brother bought a ZX Spectrum there was a Bat and Ball game called Thro’ The Wall included on the Horizons demo tape that came with it.  Needless to say it quickly became my favourite.  Thereafter I started tracking down Bat and Ball games wherever I could find them.  Arkanoid was a revelation for sure – the addition of power-ups made for an interesting twist, although I could have lived without the story to be honest…

I played many versions of Arkanoid and its sequels over the years, from the Spectrum in the 80’s through to the Commodore Amiga version in the early 90’s, but that was pretty much it.  No one else seemed to be doing much that connected with me after that.  From then on games became obsessed with 3D and anyone who’s tried to play a Bat and Ball game in 3D will know that’s one D too many. My fellow Denkians kept suggesting new Bat and Ball games for me whenever they found them, but none of them ever met my expectations.

It wasn’t until Reflexive released their amazing Ricochet game for PC during the early Casual Games revolution back in 2004 that I rediscovered a Bat and Ball game that met my requirements.  The elegant and subtle controls coupled with contemporary 2D styling and tastefully appropriate audio reinforcement was exactly what I was after.  I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent playing Ricochet and its sequels since then.  It’s right up there with the Diablo series for me.

So I think it’s fair to say I’ve become something of a Bat and Ball game connoisseur over the years.  Which makes Juggle! all the more exiting for me, because as well as being Denki’s first arcade game for the App Store, it also happens to be my perfect Bat and Ball game for iPhone – double win!

What do I like about it in particular?  Here’s a few things:

The Bat: So often it’s the bat that lets these types of games down, and it’s usually because the designer has tried to be too clever about how the ball bounces off it.  Anything too precise feels weird or unpredictable and that makes it unsatisfying to control – I need to be able to direct the ball reliably.  Pretty fundamental stuff, but all too common I find.  With touch interfaces, designers tend to implement a 1:1 ratio between finger movement and bat position.  That sucks.  The upside is that it feels immediately intuitive for new players, but it quickly becomes tiresome having to drag your finger from one side of the screen to the other all the time.  Juggle! amplifies finger movement so you can play for extended periods without finger ache.  It’s a little trickier for the first time player, but the trade off is a much better experience for long term players who are challenging for high scores – just like a classic arcade game.

No bricks: As much as I enjoy Breakout-style games I’m not particularly interested in removing bricks.  My primary enjoyment is simply keeping the ball in the air, but that gets boring quite quickly.  So when Gary came up with the idea of continually introducing balls in to play and reducing their size with each hit, that sounded like a great Twist.  A Bat and Ball game that didn’t need bricks to keep me challenged and interested?  I’m in!

The Time Limit: Although we have an endurance game that allows players to play as long as they like (assuming they can keep up with the increasing ball speed) it was the three and five minute time limited games that really appealed to me.  I often find myself with a few minutes to kill while waiting on a bus or standing in a line, and the thought of having a Denki Bat and Ball game that would fit neatly in to those odd moments really appealed.

The Scoring: The way Gary’s weighted the scoring (you basically score more for juggling more fast small balls for longer) means that there’s enormous scope for players to compete within very short time scales.  Even after weeks of internal testing we’re still beating each others scores in the 3-minute game, and at no point has someone sent me a score that I’ve thought I had no chance of beating.  Most importantly though it feels good – when you’re having a good game, juggling lots of small balls simultaneously, your score racks up really fast.  It always feels like it’s my fault when I get a crap score, but conversely when I get a great score I feel like it was entirely my l33t 5k1ll5 that delivered it.

The Way I Can Influence The Pace: As much as I enjoy playing short games for high-scores, I sometimes enjoy playing with the toy without worrying about the points I’m racking up in the game.  Endurance mode allows me to do just that.  It keeps spitting new balls at me every four hits or so, but I don’t *have* to hit them.  So long as I keep one ball in play the game continues.  If I want a relaxing game with a single ball I can have that, but when I get bored and fancy more pressure I simply start trying to juggle more balls.  And when it gets too much, I get rid of them and go back to hitting my single ball around the screen.  I can make the game match my mood.

Leaderboards and Challenges: Racking up a big score in Juggle! feels great, but dropping that score right on the front page of your friend’s iPhone by issuing a Challenge feels even better. 🙂

So, as you can see, there’s lots of things I like about Juggle!, and hopefully some of them might appeal to other players too.  To finish on though, I thought it might be worth pointing out what I don’t like – just to bring a little balance to proceedings:

Paddle: Despite what Gary, the rest of the team and Wikipedia tell me, it’s a bat.

No Options:  Gary’s a big fan of having no options in games.  I’m not.  I’d like to be able to switch the clock in the timed modes to the other side of the screen so I can see it better (I mostly play left thumbed).  I’d like to be able to adjust the sensitivity of the bat so I have to move my thumb even less to cross the screen with the bat.  I’d like to be able to turn off “Levelling Up” and “Ball Size Decreasing” so the game stayed easy for as long as I want if I’m not after a challenge.  And I’d like to have the option to use Bbmaj7(add9) as the chord the balls build into instead of G major, because I think it creates a more harmonious windchime effect.  But as Gary says, we could add all that, but it would take us more time – better to release it now and see whether anyone thinks it’s worth adding those options.  If it proves popular enough we can easily add them in a future update.

Hmmm… he has a point.  <grudgingly> I suppose </grudgingly>.  So if there’s anything else you’d like to see added or amended in future updates be sure to let us know and we’ll add it to the to-do list.  Right after mine, obviously 🙂

In the meantime I hope everyone has as much fun playing Juggle! as I have.  I’ll see you all on the leaderboards!