The big gaming companies in the world of iOS (Zygna, PopCap, Rovio, etc.) get tons of attention paid to each new offering in the iTunes App Store. I prefer to focus on the smaller independent gaming publishers; organizations that put out fantastic products that may fly under the radar due to the overwhelming number of apps available.
Digital Dreams Games is a perfect example of such an organization. The budding indie game developer hasn’t been around long, but in their short existence the founding trio has been prolific, releasing a total of six games (two specifically for iOS devices). Considering that there are well over 700,000 active apps in the iTunes store (stat courtesy of 148apps.biz) such a small newcomer is very hard to spot, but their latest offering Cowbeam is worthy addition.
The oddly named game focuses on the story of Hank the alien’s amorous frustration. He’s found the love of his life in a cow from Earth, but is at a loss because he can’t win her heart with his otherworldly physique. The gameplay consists of finding lots of cows throughout the universe for him to research so he can devise the perfect bull body to win the affection of his crush.
Cowbeam is at heart a riddle-based puzzle game. Each solar system contains a cow, and you’re provided a limited number of choices to find it amongst the solar system’s planets. Each planet has a clue, such as the planet with the cow has craters or doesn’t have rings. Some planets have bonus stars as well- you’ll need to collect them to unlock later levels or additional planetary picks. Each planet’s cow is unique addition to your gallery patterned after it’s host planet.
While the concept is a simple one, the gameplay is engaging due to some very well done 3D graphics and excellent use of the touch interface. The player spins the planets of the solar system to bring the desired planet to the forefront, then spins the planet chosen to search for hidden icons signifying clues, stars, or the elusive cow. Should you find the cow Hank’s ship zooms in and beams it up. Run out of guesses and you’ll have to start all over again with a new set of clues waiting for you.
Cowbeam is charmingly engaging. While each solar system takes just a few minutes, the game isn’t quickly finished- it contains over 50 levels spread out over 9 galaxies, and the difficulty level ramps up appropriately as you go further into the game. Even though you may find your cow, you must also collect stars to unlock additional galaxies, and the stars have no clues to help you find them (although they do provide an additional pick, making your task a bit easier). The crowning jewel of the game is it’s artwork and animation; the cutscenes are as entertaining as most of what you’ll see on Cartoon Network lately, and the game’s overall artwork is outstanding.
Cowbeam was enjoyable to play for multiple reasons- my aforementioned affinity for indy developers, the whimsical plot and animation, but most importantly it’s a unique take on an simple idea. With dozens of imitators and ripoff games out there, games that actually offer something new are well worth my time.
Cowbeam is compatible with all iOS devices (although for iPhone users they recommend iPhone 4 or later; 3GS performance has been less than optimal) and is available now via the iTunes App Store for just $1.99.