Snuggle Truck [$1.99/HD] was supposed to be a game about driving a truck overflowing with illegal immigrants to a border. Its hook revolved around the fact that the physics-enabled immigrants sit an open pickup truck bed. So, whenever you lost control on a bump or a jump, there was a good chance that immigrants could go flying out of said cage. The end goal was to try to get as many people as you can to the end point.
Quite a few people felt it was an insensitive and juvenile idea, but fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) all of that content has since been stripped and replaced with escaped cartoon animals. I bring up the history simply because Snuggle Truck feels like a game that had its vision stripped: cartoon animals are great and all, but the environments and mechanics built up around the cargo are of another tone and style; the pieces just don't fit together so well.
The good news is that the mechanics are solid, there is depth in terms of content, and the execution is superb. I wouldn’t call this one a “thrill ride,” but Snuggle Truck can be your burst game, that title you play when you’ve got three minutes to spare.
It’s hard to just peg Snuggle Truck in a genre. I call it a side-scrolling racing game and then toss in the caveat that it’s highly physics-based. In the game, you control a dirty truck that can be highly reactive to the terrain its meets -- the smallest dips and jumps cause the truck to lean back and forth. You can correct its arc with the tilt, but you don’t do it for the safety of the vehicle -- you get lined up to protect the cargo, those cartoon animals riding in the back. Each animal is just as reactive to the truck’s trajectory, and the point is to hit the end point as quickly as possible with as many animals as possible. Easier said than done, I've learned. The truck, again, is highly reactive.
There’s a lot of stuff that can get in your way in the process of getting to the end goal, the "zoo": there’s an assortment of bumps, massive hills, dips, and even a few surprise environmental objects like explosive crates that get thrown into the mix in later levels. For the most part, Owlchemy Labs does a fantastic job providing change of pace opportunities: there’s a ton of different layouts and jumps experimented with, which give you plenty to do and think about.
Hitting and landing a jump without losing your animal dudes is all in the wrist and in the finger. You can tilt your device to correct the trajectory and also use the basic movement mechanic -- pressing your fingers on either the left or the right of the screen -- to slow or speed up your truck. The main problem I have with Snuggle Truck lies here, though: in the process of moving the truck, the way I hold my phone causes my thumbs to be all over the pieces of the environment that you need to avoid or jump over. Since the game uses the whole screen split in half to control it, you can just use the top two corners to control the truck and hardly block anything, but that just doesn't feel natural to me. This issue is much less prevalent on the larger screen of the iPad, however.
Snuggle Truck introduces one new mechanic at a time, giving you the ability to slowly learn and react to obstacles as you progress through the levels. But there’s a big trial-and-error element as well since you never know what’s around the bend. One small jump, for example, can take you straight into a wall while another of the same exact kind might not present any mission critical navigational issues.
To its credit, Snuggle Truck remains fun despite its clumps of middling level design. I chock this up to its relative snappiness -- levels take, generally, under a minute to finish, so it’s not a great loss to start over again. Nor do you really need to ace a level since there’s so many in each tier.
Of course, there are carrots on sticks to chase -- Snuggle Truck goes heavy on the rewards after completion of each level. You can earn your traditional star medals, as well as completion medals based on completion and number of animals you save.
To progress to a different tier you’ll need a pre-defined set of medals, but you can just float through the content without a care. In the app world, I find this priceless since I rarely have the time at a bus stop or whatever to really grind out perks. But if you want to be a collector type of dude, you can totally go nuts with this one: there’s a lot of side stuff to earn in each level. Sick it, achievement hounds.
So, anyway, while Snuggle Truck actually feels like a game that went one direction and then the other, I recommend it. The truck controls well, the physics respond well, and the level design has that right mix of snappiness and intrigue. Check it out if you’re in the market for another racing side-scroller, and keep your eyes peeled for updates. Owlchemy Labs has crazy plans for Smuggle Truck which include implementing community-generated levels which could lead to some awesome replay value.
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