Bounce Symphony (aka Bounce aka Color Harmony) by Sprout Games was one of the first physics games aimed at the casual market. The game was released over the summer of 2003, back when Bookworm was a recent title and John Romero was trying his hand at making casual games with Congo Cube. Good times. The gameplay in Bounce Symphony is simple enough: click and drag colored balls to create horizontal lines of five or more.
Playing the Game
The limiting factor to enjoying Bounce Symphony is the inherent frustration in physically accomplishing your objective. In particular, trying to accomplish that goal with the mouse. It can be annoying to grab a tiny physics ball with the cursor. I use a mouse for hours a day, every day, and I still find it particularly irritating at times. The game would translate much more smoothly to something like the Nintendo DS or a PocketPC platform where you could interact with a stylus or, ideally, a multi-touch system like this bad boy. Grabbing and throwing things at a frantic pace with a mouse is simply too demanding, especially for a casual user.
Variations on a Theme
Thankfully, you can choose to play the game without time pressure. There are three modes presented: Relax, Sprint, and Think. Sprint and Relax are the same game mode but with without time pressure. Everyone except the most masochistic of players would probably enjoy playing without time pressure much more than they would with it.
Bounce Symphony introduces as many variations as possible as the game progresses to keep things fresh: score multipliers, bombs, blocks, super-heavy rocks, and so on. The developers have done a fair job with keeping things interesting, although the core interaction with the game remains the same which dampens long-term enjoyment.
The Think game mode is completely different. It’s a puzzle mode, of sorts, where you’re given a bunch of balls and a desired arrangement for those balls. Sometimes there is a trick to lining everything up, but more than anything this mode feels like busywork. Oftentimes it’s just plain obvious how to do it, but you end up spending most of your time trying to do things like a swap a ball on the bottom with one on the top.
Physics Game Design
Bounce Symphony didn’t do tremendously well in the market, from what I understand. It’s easy to play armchair game designer with these kinds of things, of course, and much harder to actually develop a fun game. Nonetheless, my two cents:
I think Sprout missed the mark at a very fundamental level. What’s fun about a physics game? Is it knocking stuff around? Smashing things? Setting up domino-style chain reactions? Or aligning objects with anal-retentive attention to detail? I think Bounce Symphony is fighting its physics game nature with its goal structures. At the very least, if accurate alignment is a goal the balls should be twice their size.
I would have liked to see Bounce Symphony explore other possible goals with their engine, and especially explore dynamic stages. As is, nothing moves by itself; player interaction is the only force that turns the static play field into something more interesting.
I have to wonder if the old Sprout team, now at PopCap, ever toys with the notion of revisiting the concept of a physics-based casual game. I think there’s a lot of mileage to be had here. Caramba Deluxe took a good stab it, but I’m surprised other developers don’t give it a go.
Bounce Symphony can be a relaxing distraction from a day’s work unless, of course, you work at a marble factory as a color quality control engineer. Then you should go shoot zombies or something with your gaming time.
P.S. A Quick History Lesson
The original Bounce was developed by Escape Factory, a small retail console game developer. After they had canceled their primary project there was company downtime while they sniffed around for renewed funding. During this time they developed handful of small games, one of which was Bounce. Several months later the founders of Escape Factory created a new company specifically to develop casual titles: Sprout Games. Last summer, PopCap Games acquired Sprout (for what was undoubtedly several millions of dollars). All’s well that ends well, I guess.
- List of Physics Games
- Portal, Valve’s New Physics-Based Puzzle Game
- Physics in Casual Games, Caramba Deluxe
- Ragdolls on a Pinball Table
- One-Part Tetris, One-Part Physics: Triptych