Earlier in the summer, we compiled a two-part list of freshly-released indie games for Windows Phone. Microsoft had helped a number of independent developers create a fine batch of games. One of those games, Pop! Food Factory from Blacksmith Software, suffered from performance issues though. I liked the core game but felt it needed more time in the oven.
A few months later, Blacksmith has updated Pop! on both Windows Phone and Windows 8 and RT. With the technical issues mostly smoothed out and a few visual and UI improvements, Pop! has become a much better game. It's free and the Windows Phone version runs on 512 MB devices, so everybody can give this Pop a taste. Read on for our full review and fresh game play video.
Don't stop poppin'
Pop! is sort of like Fruit Ninja, but different enough not be a clone. Food floats up from the bottom of screen, encased in bubbles. It's your job to pop all the tasty food like donuts and pies without letting it get away. Simply tap the bubbles as quickly as you can – no need to swipe as with Fruit Ninja.
Along with the good food comes some bad apples, though. Not actual bad apples (which might be neat), but inedible things like vials of chemicals and fish bones. Tapping one of those will make you lose points or a life, to say nothing of the stomach ache you'll get.
Pop! has a little combo system in which players earn bonuses for hitting three of the same food items in a row. Actually doing so is mostly impractical, though. You're penalized for missing food, and things move too quickly to be choosy anyway.
That's my one complaint about the core game play. Things get really hectic and they never slow down. The quiet moments between waves of fruit are a fun and important part of Fruit Ninja. Pop! could use some breaks in its pace instead of just being non-stop frantic.
Pop! offers two game modes at present. Classic is the main game type, bestowing players with limited lives. The game continues until you miss too many foods or hit too many foul items, losing your lives. Arcade Mode lasts for a flat sixty seconds, with no limit on lives.
After either game mode ends, the game tallies up your bonuses and score. Initially, the tallying process took too long and was unskippable. One of the post-update improvements is a better-looking tally sequence that can be skipped at will. This makes getting back into the game so much quicker.
Improving the recipe
Another improvement since launch is the title screen. The professor character has been completely redrawn in a much more pleasant art style. That's a step in the right direction, but the title screen still has a dithered, grainy appearance. I believe the image has been compressed in order to reduce the game's file size. But come on, one uncompressed PNG is not going to bulk the game up that much. Looks do matter.
More importantly, Pop! needs more things to do and collect. Right now, you can play for score, but that's it. There's not even a leaderboard, so beating your own personal high score is the only goal. Implementing a leaderboard would at least add a competitive element.
Next I would suggest adding an in-game store with things for players to buy and unlock. New backgrounds are badly needed, and probably some less repetitive music as well. Another fun unlockable would be different food groups. That way we could pop bubbles with fruits instead of just unhealthy sweets.
I'm glad that Blacksmith Software has continued to refine Pop! since its release. This game is completely free with no ads at present, making it more a labor of love than anything. If the developers can find a way to monetize the game fairly, and add the content the game needs, Pop! could have some real staying power. That would be sweet.
- Pop! Food Factory – Windows Phone 8 – 50 MB – Free – Store Link
- Pop! Food Factory – Windows 8 and RT – 7 MB – Free – Store Link