Munchies’ Lunch (PC)

The Canadian independent gaming industry has been booming for a while, and even though big names like Ubisoft have been grabbing the spotlight with their fancy studios, there are also many small studios making great games. Footloose Games’ Munchies’ Lunch, for example, is a deceptively clever puzzle game with very simple rules and controls, and yet somehow ends up being fairly challenging.

The gameplay is really simple: Try to get a certain number or combination of food items on a square-based board without running into the monsters or letting the monsters eat too many of the food items. The game is turn based, and for every step you take, the monsters move in the exact opposite direction. That’s all the mechanics of the game, aside from the special items you can get that throw some twists into the mix. For example, there are chili peppers that can eliminate a monster, or a watch that lets you take an extra turn. Though these seem beneficial at first, the special items actually add difficulty to the puzzle as a move in the wrong direction, even if it’s a free move, can mean you end up in an unsolvable state.

Add the fact that there is a perfect score you can obtain in each stage – and there are 100 stages – and puzzle perfectionists should be occupied for hours. Admittedly, the game was too easy at first. I had a perfect score in 100% of the earlier levels, but as special items are introduced, it became much harder to keep track of everything on the board and I had to give up on getting the perfect score for every level. Luckily, the game lends itself to trial and error if you do get stuck, and Turbo mode is a convenient feature to help the play move along a little faster.

What’s even better about Munchies is that “the story of Munchies’ Lunch was inspired by a real family’s journey from their home caught up in civil war. Even though the game is about collecting fruit for the Munchie kids and avoiding monsters, ultimately it’s about love.”  Whose real life story is this? None other than Footloose Games’ President, Vlado Jokic. His family escaped the civil war in Yugoslavia and eventually inspired this game. The short vignettes in between the levels illustrate a journey in which the father always somehow manages to get captured or separated, leaving the brave mother to face monsters in order to obtain food for her children. Though the art style and animation are done in a cartoony fashion, something about the expressions and art direction added a hint of darkness and seriousness to the whole thing. It wasn’t exactly what kept me playing, but I certainly did want to see more of the story and wished it had even more cutscenes.

The sound and musical score in the game is well done and fairly catchy, as expected from games in this genre. The art and animation, though good, doesn’t quite live up to games like Critter Crunch, but you certainly won’t be complaining either. If monsters are threatening you from two squares away, they will be menacing, and when the monsters eat a jalapeno pepper, they will get burnt in an amusing fashion.

Perhaps the most (and only) disappointing thing about Munchies is that it’s not on a mobile platform. The game seems to be primed for it with its turn based style and the ease and speed with which a player can hop in and finish a few puzzles at any time. Footloose tells us they are in the midst of porting it for Mac and iPad, so hopefully portable ports won’t be far behind!

Munchies’ Lunch may not be a Triple A blockbuster hit, but it certainly shows that good game design can come in small packages.