Noble Nutlings: Get Nutty

Ever walk into a mall and see some kid wearing an Angry Birds T-shirt? Maybe there’s a friend of yours who has a stuffed animal shaped like the red bird in the game. Possibly your dad is hooked on the app like crack — you get the picture.

That game was developed by Rovio, and recently a few of their developers spun off to create their own company, Boomlagoon. Their first release is called Noble Nutlings, and it’s the tale of three squirrels, a car and a bunch of acorns. Did they create the next Angry Birds or will these rodents go feral? Let’s find out after the jump.

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About The Squirrels

There’s no real backstory here for our lovable main characters. What we know is that there are three squirrels of varying heights and weights, and they have a cart. Their goal is to ride the cart up and down a series of hills, collecting acorns along the way, until they reach their destination. If they get to the finish line under one amount of time, they get two stars, under another, and it’s all three stars. For each acorn you successfully procure, you get coins — coins that you use to buy stuff, like upgrades.

Or hot sauce, which helps you go faster.

Or hot sauce, which helps you go faster.

If this sounds familiar to you, it probably should. That’s because the star system and some of the physics in the game are very reminiscent of Angry Birds, whereas the cart dynamic works and looks similar to Rovio’s other title, Bad Piggies. Does that really mean anything in the grand scheme of it all? Who knows, but it probably should be pointed out.

On the Move

The game starts you off in a cart with wooden wheels and a wooden base. It’s a good all-around machine, but if you want to upgrade, there are plenty of options. Pick a narrower cart with less balance but much less weight, or pick a faster wheel with a time downside. There’s no universal best option for anything, because each race can benefit from different materials and carts. That makes it interesting to play.

Pick your cart, pick your wheels.

Pick your cart, pick your wheels.

The other quirky component here is how you control the characters. This isn’t just a push-the-button-and-go racer game, but instead you can use the iPhone or iPad’s accelerometer to tilt your way through the level. Since each cart acts differently (and rotates accordingly), tilting can be a fun way to play along. For me though, I preferred the buttons. It flows better in my hands, and feels more natural.

Tilting, not so much (for me, anyways).

Tilting, not so much (for me, anyways).

There is one exception, however. After completing five levels, you’re given a sixth where you have to ride a unicycle to complete the race. This is virtually impossible to do just using buttons, so you’re going to want to turn on tilt if you’re not playing that way already.

And there are lots of hills to roll through.

And there are lots of hills to roll through.

Although all of this has a very Rovio feel (which isn’t really surprising), there is another dynamic that comes into play, and that’s Tiny Wings. While rolling up and down the hills, you’re penalized if you lose momentum by landing in the middle of a slope, and given extra speed if you carry that momentum down an incline. It’s not quite the same as there’s no way to time your landings and what-not, but it did call that game to mind as I was playing.

The Good and the Bad

The game has 36 levels right now, and each one has three stars to attain. To get to the end, you need to have at least 36 of the possible 85 stars. For right now, that’s it, and I did get through the game fairly quickly. If you’re like me, you’ll play the game again and again just to kill time, but eventually it will get old. Hopefully, Boomlagoon has updates ready to go soon.

If you do flips, you get tokens which you can use in a slot machine.

If you do flips, you get tokens which you can use in a slot machine.

And then there’s the ugly side of the game. Like most free apps, we have in-app purchases ready to go. Here, you’ll buy coins so that you can upgrade your cart as you wish. I never bought any coins, but I can see why someone would — modding the carts is fun (and you can’t hate on them for wanting to make some money). As for iCloud sync for sharing between your devices, well, there is none. Instead, you need to sign up with Facebook, which is, frankly, crap.

IAP? No thanks.

IAP? No thanks.

The way I see it, Facebook is for me and my friends. I try not to use my personal account for business related things, and I also don’t want to much up my feed with a bunch of garbage from random people. Forcing a Facebook sync ticks me off, and it’s one of the huge knocks against this app.

Endgame

For a first release, Noble Nutlings is great. It’s a lot of fun, addictive and has a simple formula. But it’s also quite derivative, in that it’s clear that inspiration for the game came from Angry Birds and Bad Piggies. Sure, there are other companies with similar apps, but when every press release from Boomlagoon refers to “Three former Angry Birds developers from Rovio …” it’s clear that their muse was a triangular red bird aimed at a green piece of pork.

But if you put all that behind you, it’s a good game. It’s not perfect — IAP and Facebook sync muck that up — but it’s definitely got promise. Once a few more levels get added and we see more variety, I think this could easily be one of my favorite apps. But it’s not there yet. Soon, I think, but not quite yet.


Summary

Roll your way through the hills with three squirrels, a cart, some chili and a whole lot of Rovio influence.

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