In an industry so focused on escapism, Hidden Variable Studios’ strategy of finding fun in the mundane has to be an incredibly risky one. I mean, c’mon, this is the platform where we fling birds with slingshots and shoot zombies — a dev’s got to have a lot of guts to hand players a set of groceries and ask them to Bag It! (Out Now, $0.99; HD $2.99). Fortunately for casual puzzle fans, Hidden Variable back up their seemingly reckless bravado with impeccable game design sense.
As in the checkout lane at your local supermarket, grocery items in Bag It! slide down a conveyor belt — only this is one of those pesky self-service aisles, so it’s up to you to figure out how to stuff them all into the sack that’s waiting for them. Gameplay revolves around two major considerations. First is the simple Tetris-like challenge of fitting all the items, rotating them as needed for space efficiency. Only three or four items queued on the conveyor belt are known to the player at any given moment, and yet a dozen more might need to be packed before the level ends; the player’s only hope is to keep some maneuvering room open within the bag to accommodate the unknown. Advanced levels give the player more than one bag to work with, so level size isn’t nearly as constricted as I thought it might be early on.
What really makes Bag It! shine is how the basic Tetris idea interacts with an item weight system. Cereal boxes, nacho bags, and egg cartons are easily crushed by the likes of watermelons and other heavyweights. Therefore the player has to worry not only about the fit, but also about how the weight of all the items can be safely distributed within that fit. Groceries can be crushed outright if the player lets something drop from a fair height, and fragile objects begin a countdown before their collapse otherwise.
Naturally, the player’s level rating usually depends on getting all the groceries through checkout intact, and yet crushing an item can be strategically useful in a pinch — it frees up a little more space in the bag, after all! Scores also depend on arrangement bonuses, which are gradually introduced to the player by way of hint screens pertinent to the current level. Bag It! follows puzzle game tradition in requiring the player to unlock level sets with performance stars, but there’s also plenty of room to skip around if a particular level seems tailored to challenge seekers.
A cool concept can last only so long before the shine wears off. Bag It! derives a surprising amount of staying power from something I’ve only expected in strategy games until now — it serves up constantly changing level objectives! As mentioned earlier, the basic premise evolves from using a single bag to using several, and certain challenge levels are timed. Moreover, a set of “Rage” levels gives the player the opportunity to do exactly what he or she has secretly wanted after all that careful grocery fitting: go hog wild with the destruction! As if the normal routine weren’t puzzling enough, “Puzzle” levels make the player focus on shifting items around within the bag to achieve the perfect fit. No matter how far you get into Bag It!, it seems there’s always some new twist waiting just around the corner.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Bag It! sports a perfect touch interface. The player drags and drops groceries with as much ease as one could ask for, and the method of rotating them – continuing to hold the object while tapping elsewhere onscreen – feels just as reliable. A brief tilt controlled phase occurs just before a grocery bag is sent off, giving the player a chance at a last-minute save if an item is about to be crushed as the current level wraps up.
Even at release, my gripes with Bag It! are minor. First, I’d love to see a record of the grocery combinations the player gradually learns for purposes of bumping up his or her score. They’re usually intuitive enough, but a reference sheet that ranks the bonuses could come in handy in cases where the player might have to choose one combination bonus over another. Secondly, every once in a while I found myself at the very end of a level with one item left and no more room in the bag — in those cases a reach for the retry button is the player’s only option. An ability to remove items from the bag and place them back on the empty conveyor belt would have been appreciated. Finally, players seeking Game Center integration won’t find it in Bag It! just yet.
Bag It!’s cute, clean and cartoony aesthetics are just what iOS gamers have come to expect in the $0.99 tier by now. Some really groovin’ tunes and the groceries’ characteristic sound effects nicely round out Bag It!’s presentation on the audio side. Since the game’s content doesn’t wear out its welcome over the tons of levels currently on offer, fans of casual games and logic puzzles should find that Bag It! enjoys an immensely long stay on their iDevices.
iFanzine Verdict: Bag It! is not only more fun than packing groceries in real life — it’s just about everything you could ever hope for in a casual puzzle game! If you’re a fan of logic puzzle and physics puzzle games and can get past the fact that the groceries here have eyeballs and personalities and sometimes squeak, consider yourself much advised to check into this one.