I first came across Backflip Studios' Julian Farrior back at GDC a few years ago. At the time, his company's biggest title was called Paper Toss, and he also had a game in the store called Ragdoll Blaster, a physics puzzler where you threw dummies out of a cannon. Back then, Farrior talked at length about how he was using ads in the Paper Toss app to drive sales of his paid titles, and his big plan was to use whatever worked to make his company successful on the App Store.
Cut to two years later, and Backflip is doing great. The company has grown and released quite a few polished titles, including a licensed Army of Darkness game and the very popular and excellent freemium title DragonVale. Farrior and his company have learned a lot over the past few years, about how to make and maintain interesting games, and they've brought a lot of that knowledge back to bear on their recent return to the Ragdoll Blaster series with part three.
First things first, Backflip's art and polish is probably better than it's ever been. Ragdoll Blaster 2 didn't look bad, but it didn't have the quality and "voice" (for lack of a better word) that this title has. This game's characters are cute and funny, and while you could argue that Backflip has borrowed a lot from games like Cut the Rope and even Sony's LittleBigPlanet, the core Ragdoll Blaster gameplay is still there. The flow of the game is much improved as well -- you still roll through a series of stages with their own challenges, but the game is super simple and easy to navigate. And there are a whole host of social features, including saving and sharing replays and full Game Center integration.
Fans of the past Ragdoll Blasters may be a little disappointed. There are lots of freemium items included in this one (including little suits for the dolls), and the rare gamer that still wants to simply buy a paid app might be disappointed. And the new look to the game is a little more colorful and kid-friendly than the old, more gritty look, so some players might be turned off by just how cute the game is (the music, especially, tends a little too far towards the nursery than the playground at times).
But all in all, I think this new direction is a good call for Backflip and Farrior, and will help this already solid franchise find an even bigger audience. Ragdoll Blaster 3 is available in the App Store right now for 99 cents. And stay tuned, I expect to see Farrior and company at GDC again this year, so we'll find out how this new approach worked for them then.