Microsoft fans dream of a connected ecosystem in which we can buy a game once and play it on phone, tablet, PC, and console. We're not quite there yet, but at least some game developers are supporting all of those platforms. Take London-based indie developer Mudvark Limited. Mudvark's debut title Mortar Melon is already available on both Windows Phone and Windows 8 and RT. And soon it will come to Xbox One as part of the ID@Xbox program.
Mortar Melon is a physics-based puzzle game in which players try to fire watermelons through obstacle-filled levels and safely into a basket. The game is free to play on both Windows Phone and Windows 8, with an extra batch of levels available as an in-app purchase. It runs on Windows Phones with 512 MB of RAM, so everybody can have fun breaking, I mean saving watermelons.
From cannon to basket
Some physics puzzle games have slingshots, birds, and pigs to shoot. Instead of that boring stuff, Mortar Melon gives players a cannon and a watermelon that needs a happy home (a basket). To send the watermelon to its new family, you'll have to either shoot it directly into the basket or bounce it off a series of obstacles along the way.
The deadliest of those obstacles are buzzsaws that will turn your favorite fruit into into gooey red chunks. Some objects prove less obstructive, such as rotating windmills or locked gates that can be opened via tap or click. The premium desert level pack introduces jars that will act like portals, magically transporting the watermelon from place to place.
Just beating a level by reaching the basket only gets you one star. To earn a full three-star rating, players must collect all of the additional fruit strewn throughout the level. Sometimes the fruit will be encased in bubbles that threaten to carry it off-screen and out of your life. Nobody wants to lose their fruit and face the threat of scurvy! Pop the bubble by tapping, clicking, or hitting it with the watermelon.
Fun but fiddly
The basic concept of shooting an object from one place to another should be instantly familiar to mobile gamers. To aim the cannon in Mortar Melon, you pull back on it and release. A dotted guide line will plot the course of the projectile, but only until it strikes something (not the subsequent bounces).
Simple concept, but the aiming here is not as smooth and intuitive as you'd expect. The cannon can be rotated in 360 degrees, and sometimes it will rotate wildly when you're just trying to adjust the strength of the shot. I'm thinking the solution would be to limit the rotational axis to meet each level's requirements.
Controlling shot strength proves tough as well, even with a mouse. The arc jumps from minimum to maximum way too quickly. As a result, firing shots of low and medium strength requires a lot of trial and error. There needs to be much more of a middle ground and less wild swinging of the cannon.
Mortar Melon is a colorful game, filled with layers of parallax scrolling. The lovely looks (moreso on Windows 8) shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. One of Mudvark's three-man team is Henry Hoffman, who worked on the gorgeous Mush for Windows Phone. Mush is prettier overall, but the similarity of the two art styles is hard to miss. The actual frame rate is lower than it should be on my Lumia 1520, but it runs perfectly on my gaming notebook.
Mortar Melon includes 24 jungle levels for free. Players who crave more can get the 24 desert levels as an in-app purchase. Unfortunately, Mortar Melon is not a universal app – seemingly due Game House publishing the Windows 8 version but not the Windows Phone game. The extra levels cost $1.29 on Windows Phone and $1.49 on Windows 8.
Given that Mortar Melon debuted last year, it seems unlikely that Mudvark will improve the aiming controls at this point. But physics puzzle fans should still give the game a go, especially with the first 24 levels costing nothing. I'm excited to see how well the upcoming Xbox One version will play with a controller. We'll let you know when it gets a release date!
- Mortar Melon – Windows Phone 8 – 5 MB – Free – Store Link
- Mortar Melon – Windows 8 and RT – 12 MB – Free – Store Link