You'd think from the buzz that the gamification of daily life was a new thing. That we need expensive devices and fancy apps to build rewards into the tasks and chores that otherwise fail to motivate us. But as anyone who's spent time bagging groceries knows, you can turn anything into a game if you try. Bagging groceries is like Tetris -- and your goal is to fit everything into place just perfectly that the bag is full, the eggs are unbroken, and you can still lift the thing into your car.
Bag It! [$0.99 / Universal HD] puts those life skills to good use. Turns out bagging groceries is actually so much fun. Seriously. This little gem almost slipped by us, but I'm sure glad it didn't. In Bag It! you're tasked with bagging up a friendly collection of grocery items, like Sir Eggward and Sunshine the juice carton. Like their real counterparts, they have weight to them, and fragility. A carton of eggs is easily crushed, a watermelon less easily so.
In the early levels of Bag It! you take items off a conveyor belt and stack them into a brown paper bag. You can drag the items around and tap to rotate them, fitting them together like pieces of a puzzle. You'll have to take care not to stack too much on an item -- weight accumulates, and one burrito too far will leave you with spilt milk to cry about.
Once you've run out of time or packed all your groceries, the game demands that you prove your worth as a bagger. To finish a level you must tilt your device back and forth, shaking loose any carelessly packed items and hopefully keeping everything uncrushed. Then, if you still meet the level criteria, you're ranked on a three-star scale. Sometimes this scale ranks you on your speed, other times it's on the fullness of your bag or the number of items you can pack. The stars are required to unlock later levels.
On top of the stars there are medals to earn, two for each level. These increase the challenge of the levels and often require a re-visitation or two. You might need to complete the level under a certain time, or with every item upright. But the best are the ones that give you a hint, like "Crusty Rivals," and leave you to discover which items will create that combo when placed together.
The medals are used to unlock new game modes, and that's where things start to get really fun. Udder Mayhem will engage those with an appetite for destruction, bringing in new 16 levels. Forget about carefully balancing your bag -- these levels are about crushing everything with abandon. Fresh Squeeze takes the opposite track, with 16 levels that won't let you break a single item.
There are also three endless modes to play that mix things up even further. Ultimate Bagger lets you bag to your heart's content, filling bag after bag until you something gets crushed. Endless rampage gives you extra time on the clock for extreme acts of destruction. Power Surge mode is something completely different -- items that go too far on the conveyer belt are destroyed, costing you time. It's also the hardest to unlock at 75 medals, so only dedicated baggers will see it.
Not only do these modes offer a lot of variety, the unlocking mechanism encourages players to try new things, learn new combinations and do the best they can. It offers such a sense of accomplishment that I didn't even notice the lack of Game Center integration. But if that's a dealbreaker for you, never fear -- Hidden Variable Studios says it's coming soon.
It's rare to find a puzzle game that feels so fresh but also so obvious. I've never played a game about bagging groceries before, but why not? It should be mandatory training for everyone who moves out on their own, never mind the folks who work at grocers. I have a quibble with the controls -- it can be hard to rotate an item and move it to a new area at the same time -- but otherwise it's hard to complain about Bag It! It turns something that ought to be a chore into an absolute blast, and it does so with a huge, rich game. So check it out, and visit our discussion thread to share your impressions.