Developer Sunbreak's Jason Behr explains that there's a personal reason for including those flying flop-eared companions in Buddy & Me. " My wife and I used to have a pet bunny years ago," he told me. "I promised her that one day, that bunny would show up (in spirit) in a game somewhere if it was appropriate. I like to joke, that Halo 4 [on which Behr was senior mission designer] didn't seem like the right time to bring up singing angel bunnies with my boss, so I just had to start Sunbreak to make it happen."
Sentiment aside, the bunnies serve a practical purpose, too. " I just find it so much more interesting to have a scoring mechanic be expressed as a friendly creature that belongs in the world, and enriches it, instead of an abstract pickup or flashing statistic. You can't bond with a statistic, and an empty forest with no life wouldn't be as interesting ... and there's just no substitute for how good it feels to have a swarm of those little guys follow you around on your adventure." It's true. Mo' bunnies, mo' betta is a long-acknowledged rule of the universe.
Personal stories like the one about Behr's bunny were the inspiration for much of Buddy & Me's design, including Buddy himself, who actually has more to do with Behr's little brother's childhood puppy than Falkor. Still, once the design was complete, Sunbreak couldn't help but acknowledge the similarity, and cheekily added a little nod of recognition to the beloved children's book character. "We happily added the Boy's fist-pump animation to Buddy Flight after the comparisons became obvious," Behr explains. "It's a timeless celebration of childhood."
Like most childhood games, the rules for Buddy & Me are simple: tap once for one jump, tap again to double jump, and tap a third time and hold to spread open your jacket and glide a little bit. It takes a few tries to understand the timing of the jumps (the double jump isn't a rapid tap-tap, like you'd expect it to be) as well as learning how far each jump will actually take you; it's very easy to overshoot at first, especially in sections that require a string of jumps in quick succession. You'll get the hang of it after just a few trips through the tree house, though, and after that you'll be hooked. There are certain amenities I miss, like a leaderboard or friends list that would let me know how competitive my score is, and it's awkward to have to visit the Extras menu to see my high scores, but the gameplay is so polished that it's easy to forgive.
I don't know if it's the singing bunnies, the charming Buddy, the beautiful scenery, or the elegantly simple gameplay that has me flipping open my iPad every few minutes, but I can't seem to get enough of Buddy & Me.
Okay, it's probably the singing bunnies.
This review is based on an iOS download of Buddy & Me, provided by Sunbreak Games. Buddy & Me is now available on iOS and Kindle Fire.