4th and Battery is Popcap’s self-proclaimed experimental division but there’s nothing much avant-garde about the first title to emerge from the studio.
The protagonist in this misadventure by the same name is Unpleasant Horse; a black stallion with piercing red eyes and human skulls tattooed on his behind. He’s unpleasant, in case you missed that.
More importantly he’s endowed with a pair of wings with which he glides from cloud to cloud in his skyline world. You control Unpleasant Horse by tapping on the cloud you want the evil steed to land on next before watching as he glides gracefully through the air. Colliding with a bird earns you a feather, allowing Unpleasant Horse to take another leap upward mid-flight (a valuable commodity when you’re nose-diving without a cloud in sight).
You can also land on the back of “pritty ponies”, sending them to a grisly demise because – and this is the part 4th and Battery really want you to take note of – the floor of this vaguely gothic world is one perpetual meat grinder meaning each brief jaunt ends with Unpleasant’s viscera making a quick evacuation from his body.
The game’s only real reason for existing is to flaunt this gag. But it isn’t funny. Not because a dead horse isn’t hilarious, but because this desperate, two-bit comedy is striving to mask an otherwise hollow game.
And it is hollow. Ultimately a game of luck, without fail each round will end with you gazing on as Unpleasant Horse cascades down toward the meat grinder, powerless to stop him. That makes for a predictably dull experience and one you’re only going to stick with as long as the idea of geysers of strawberry jam and cartoon bones remains hysterical. Not long, in other words.
Bolstering that notion is the lack of online leaderboards meaning you’re left facing off against “Jake” with 10,000 points, “Ben” with 40,000 and “Mark” with 80,000.
Add to that the lack of a restart option – the game inexplicably kicks you out to the menu following every attempt – and you’ve got a game clearly built around one weary conceit, one with very little depth or pull. It’s a high-score game without leaderboards and without restarts but with dying horses in their place. Poor trade-off.
So if this is experimental then make mine conventional PopCap in future.