How much do production values matter in a game? Can a game take a simple idea, arguably already perfected by an earlier development team, and spruce it up in dazzling visuals and charming sound effects and make something worth playing, even if they didn’t really add anything new to the formula? It turns out — in some cases, anyway — the answer is yes. Very, very yes. Mountain Sheep’s latest sugary iOS confection is KingHunt (out now, $0.99), and it bills itself as “the next generation slicing game”. That may be overselling it a bit, but one thing you can’t deny is how pretty the thing looks.
Enough beating around the bush, though. What we’ve got here is Fruit Ninja dressed up in Mountain Sheep’s trademark adorable-nightmare look. Instead of slicing at bland, ordinary fruit, here you’re slicing a bunch of different characters and items that look like somebody made muppets out of potatoes and then tossed them onto the set of a horror film. It’s not just a different coat of paint, though; the slicing seems to be a little more realistic than Halfbrick Studios’ classic in terms of the physics of which direction you cut things and how they split apart. In fact, a huge part of the satisfaction from the game is seeing the insides of things, as weird as that sounds. Meat, jelly, bones, and butterflies squirt out in all directions, and it’s a glorious thing to behold.
Gameplay-wise it’s all bit shallow, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a genre where your only job is to wildy slash at random objects like a drunken serial killer. Still, it’s a little disappointing, given that it’s supposed to be “the next generation” and all. There are no upgrades or weapons to unlock, most enemies and bosses act pretty much the same, and if there was a story tying all this weirdness together it obviously made no impression in my memory. Yes, it’s pretty much Fruit Ninja with the fruit fighting back. (A later stage even pays tribute to this inspiration, with veggies and samurai. Close enough!)
Yet for as simple as everything seems, it’s also maddeningly confusing. Let’s start with the gems. You’ll find that if you swipe your finger around on the level select screen (which looks amazing, by the way, with everything warping around your finger), four different colors of little gems will pop out and join a gem count at the top of the screen. What are these for? No explanation. There also appear to be different badges you can earn while completing a level, though it’s not explained how you get them, or why some are bronze. Nor is there any explanation for the five stars at the bottom of each level, or what the coins you seem to earn can be spent on, or any number of other seemingly random quirks all over the game. (Spoiler alert: The answers are: unlocking the bonus level / check the in-game progress bar on the right / you get stars for completing the badges / the coins are just your score.)
In fact, things are so ill-explained that there were a few moments when I wasn’t sure if I’d found a bug or a feature. For instance, after completing one level, the wrong boss was displayed on the results screen. Another time, I earned a trinket after completing a normal level, despite the fact that the first 20 or so trinkets I got came only from the bonus level. And speaking of the bonus level, usually it shoots out a lighthouse beam illuminating where the main boss is hiding, but once or twice I found it shining in a completely different direction from where the boss was.
It felt quite strange, then, when I was about halfway through such a simple game and still had only a vague idea of what everything meant or how it all worked. Eventually it all began to make sense, though even at this time with most of the game beat I’m still a bit lost on one or two details. What I am sure of, however, is that KingHunt gets the basic mechanic — the slicing — down perfectly, and looks absolutely stellar while doing it. It’s one of those rare games where the production values are so finely tuned with the gameplay that everything just feels wonderful. (I’m also sure that you should be extra careful with the pronunciation when your friends ask what you’re playing.)
iFanzine Verdict: KingHunt by Mountain Sheep is at once among the simplest and most confusing iOS games I’ve ever played. This means that it’s a little shallow and a little maddening at the same time, which is usually a lethal combination. Fortunately, the developers have access to some of the weirdest and most beautiful production values in the biz and apply them liberally here, turning what could have been another boring clone into something I can’t seem to stop playing. Plus, Mountain Sheep has a solid track record of expanding their games through frequent updates, making sure replayability will remain high. Even if they didn’t, though, the game is 99 cents, and if that’s not a fair price to slice a green-nosed vampire until cheese comes out, I don’t know what is.