Poppy Logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo takes some time to highlight the work of one of his favorite iOS developers, Poppy. With so many iOS games in Apple’s App Store, it can be tough for many developers and publishers to have their work get any attention. Mister Raroo loves the cute, simple style of Poppy’s games, and he thinks you just might, too!

NOTE: Because Poppy’s art is so charming, Mister Raroo decided to eschew his usual drawings and let the screenshots stand on their own.]

Off the Charts

A year ago at Christmas my dad surprised me with a gift I didn’t think I wanted: an iPod Touch. Since that day, my iPod Touch and I have been inseparable. I didn’t think I’d have any interest in iOS games, but as it turns out, the iPod Touch was my most-played platform for video games this past year. There may be an overabundance of games and applications available to consumers, but many of the best releases seem to have a tendency to float to the top.

However, not all the good stuff winds up receiving the attention it deserves. With admittedly fun games like Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, and Cut the Rope sitting atop the App Store sales charts for what seems to be an indefinite period of time, it can seem almost impossible for lesser-known developers to have their releases enjoy any attention.

I doubt I’m alone in my continual search for off-the-radar iOS releases, the type that surprise you and make you wonder why the majority of App Store shoppers haven’t taken note of them. I regularly scour each day’s new releases in hopes of stumbling across some unnoticed gem. This is how I first came across Poppy.

We Are Poppy!!Poppy is a wonderful little developer from Japan composed of two individuals who refer to themselves as TomTom and Jerry. The team’s main output has been working in Flash, creating many advertising websites for companies in Japan. Two years ago they created the Poppy website in order to focus on their private works. Currently Poppy focuses on iOS releases, though they plan to eventually move into other areas, such as games for Facebook.

Poppy’s output is essentially divided into two categories depending on which member of the team created the software. TomTom’s releases tend to be simple games with adorable pixel-art that bring to mind Nintendo’s Game & Watch series, whereas Jerry’s works are more akin to interactive toys or experiments.

I recently got in touch with Poppy and was delighted to find the response was just as I would have expected judging by their works. That is, the message was friendly, to the point, and contained all the information I needed. It made me smile.

All of Poppy’s iOS releases are well worth checking out, and you can purchase their entire catalog for less than the price of one Nintendo DS game. And, should you be a total cheapskate, some of Poppy’s releases are even free, so you have no excuse not to give them a chance. Below are some thoughts on my five favorite Poppy releases.

Brave Man (TomTom)

Brave ManWhen I was in junior high school, there was a trend amongst the students to play a game where you would lay your hand on a table and try to tap your pencil between your fingers as fast as possible. I would later learn that apparently “real men” play this game with a knife in place of a pencil. Since I’ve never been one to take risks, I haven't ever able to muster the courage to move beyond playing with pencils. That is, until I came across Brave Man.

Brave Man allows you to virtually experience the thrill of tapping a knife between your fingers as quickly as possible. As the game progresses, small nips and cuts will appear on the titular brave man’s fingers due to inaccurate tapping. If your timing is off by too far of a margin, you’ll wind up losing a finger. The look of anguish on the brave man’s face is enough to make you feel guilty, if only for a moment, before you decide to see if you can beat your score.

My son Kaz had a brief period of time where he was really enthralled with Brave Man, much to my chagrin. Whenever Kaz played with my iPod Touch, he somehow loaded Brave Man and proceeded to chop off one of the poor man's fingers as quickly as possible. I did my best to hide the Brave Man icon on my iPod Touch's Home screen so he couldn't find it, until one day he asked, "Where is the ketchup game?" Ketchup?! Oh, thank goodness for childhood innocence!

Color Infection (TomTom)

Color Infection is a puzzle game whose goal is “Let’s stop the infection of color.”

Color Infection

I really like the style of Color Infection, and it would not have been out of place in Skip's initial run of bit Generations titles for Game Boy Advance. Most of TomTom’s games are very basic, and while Color Infection isn’t necessarily as deep as something like Jason Rohrer’s Primrose, it is definitely a step above the rest of Poppy’s releases when it comes to complexity.

Gameplay revolves around quickly strategizing where to place similarly-colored blocks on the playfield in order to bookend other blocks and make them disappear. So, despite being another block-clearing puzzle game, Color Infection manages to do something unique and the quick pacing makes it a perfect play for when you only have a few minutes to spare.

Endless Smile (Jerry)

Endless SmileI love Poppy’s description for Endless Smile: “You may assume a smile face is universal, but it may vary according to individual, nation, and culture.”

Essentially, this free application provides you with a rudimentary paint program so you can create a drawing of a smiling face and upload it for sharing with the rest of the world. The submitted smiles can be viewed randomly as ultra-happy music plays in the background.

As with all of Jerry’s Poppy releases, Endless Smile is more of a plaything than anything else. There is no objective other than to send a smile to the rest of the world, and I honestly believe that is a beautiful thing. With so much anger and hatred in the world, it’s nice to know Poppy is doing its part to spread a little happiness.

I've added quite a few of my own smiles to the global collection, and it's really neat to think that people from all over the world may have seen my doodles. Endless Smile definitely lives up to its name and will likely put a smile upon the face of anyone who experiences it.

Hotdog Panic (TomTom)

There exists a man named Mr. Hot Dog. He wears a suit, dons a top hat, and carries a cane. Mr. Hot Dog enjoys standing at the end of a refreshment stand counter, eating hot dogs one after another. But there is one thing Mr. Hot Dog cannot stand: Mustard. Don’t dare feed him a hot dog with mustard on it or you will see him make an angry face as he yells how much he hates that vile yellow condiment!

Hot Dog Panic

And so is the premise of Hot Dog Panic, a simple one-button game in which you ensure Mr. Hot Dog gets his fill of ketchup-laden hot dogs while safeguarding his taste buds from dreaded mustard. Keep your finger off the touch screen and the hot dogs continue down the counter toward Mr. Hot Dog. Tap the screen at just the right moment and you’ll throw away any hot dog in front of you. Don’t toss a hot dog with ketchup, though, or Mr. Hot Dog will get as angry as if you gave him a hot dog with mustard on it!

Fun fact: There was a stretch of time when my son would exclaim "Don't want mustard!" in regard to any food he was served due to the influence of this game.

I Am Not a Zombie (TomTom)

I Am Not a ZombieIf you only buy one Poppy game, this is the best place to start. Originally submitted to the App Store as I Am Not a Mole, the game was rejected by Apple for being too close to Whack a Mole, even if its gameplay is much different. TomTom went back to the drawing board and reskinned the game with a zombie motif, with the result being I Am Not a Zombie. I’m glad he made the effort to do so, as I think this is Poppy’s best release.

I Am Not a Zombie contains one of the purest examples of a risk/reward system in any game I’ve ever played. You control a cute little person who needs to avoid being whacked by the fists of a crazed giant hovering above a field of holes.

Duck into the hole and you’re safe, but you won’t score any points. Peek out the hole and you’re vulnerable, but you score an increasing amount of points the longer you are exposed. The game’s design is very elegant in its minimalism, and the drive to beat your previous score is strong enough to bring you back to I Am Not a Zombie time and time again.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com]