Physicality defines Game Oven's mobile apps, and the studio focuses on much more than mere taps and swipes. The Dutch studio's first release, 2012's almost lurid-sounding Fingle, encourages intimate touching of fingers as two players solve puzzles together on an iPad screen. Last year's Bam Fu is more aggressive, as up to four participants tap frantically on colored pebbles on the same screen. And the more recent Friendstrap forces two players to each keep a thumb planted on a phone screen while discussing awkward topics as prompted — until one feels the urge to pull away, thus losing the showdown.
Game Oven's latest release Bounden follows in the multiplayer-focused footsteps of those earlier titles, but is decidedly more active, serene, and peculiar. Like in Friendstrap, two players place a thumb on the iPhone screen to begin, but after the device calibrates, a sphere appears with several circles upon it, which are cleared by a marker as players move the device in the appropriate direction. As a song plays, the circles continue to emerge in various patterns, requiring more elaborate movements in tandem, and before long you're dipping and twirling your partner. Whether you anticipated it or not, you're dancing — all thanks to an iPhone app.
Game Oven designer and co-founder Adriaan de Jongh says that inspiration struck in part after he saw an old couple dancing and thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could make people dance?" Later, while testing Friendstrap, he noticed that some players would try to slowly wrench the device from an opponent's grip by contorting and twisting the device, which triggered the idea of a more harmonious experience. "This emergent behavior inspired me to use the rotation of the phone to try to guide people to do a sequence of movements," he says.
Charming as that premise sounds, making it work with a device — the iPhone version launched Wednesday for $4; it's launching on Android soon — situated between players proved anything but a graceful process. Several prototypes were tested until the team came up with the concept of the ball: A metaphor that eliminated the issues that came with the opposing orientation of each player. As you move together, so too does the ball on the screen, and it's a common instructing element that doesn't require viewing from any particular angle.
Granted, the minimal interface does make the several-minute tutorial very necessary to even understand the basics of Bounden. And de Jongh isn't even sure if it's even approachable enough at launch to quickly loop all prospective players into the fun. "Maybe we're not entirely there yet," he concedes, "but we will keep working on it until even my mom is able to understand the game fully."
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