Developer: Owlchemy Labs
Publisher: Self Published
Platforms: Steam, Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android
Version Played: Steam
Release Date: Dec 9, 2011 (iOS) Feb 3, 2012 (Steam)
Price: £3.99 (Steam)
Start up your engines as it’s time to get truckin’ with Snuggle Truck! This peculiar indie videogame from Owlchemy labs offers players the opportunity to transport a trailer load of stuffed animal toys across deserts and through abandoned mines to the “local” zoo. It doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is if it’s fun and if it’s worth your precious time and money.
The zoo needs stuffed animals, so its up to the Snuggle Truck‘s truck driver to get the job done in the fastest time possible without letting too many of the cuddly creatures bounce out of the truck’s trailer.
And that’s Snuggle Truck’s “story” in a nutshell. But funnily enough, the creation and development of Snuggle Truck is a story in and of itself.
Originally titled Smuggle Truck, the game was the product of Owlchemy Labs’ participation in a 48-hour, immigration themed game jam. As such, Smuggle Truck was a satirical comment on the oft ignored risks and dangers faced by illegal immigrants crossing the Mexico-United States border who are forced to do so due to the difficultly of legally obtaining permission live and work in the US. However, the seemingly light hearted representation of Smuggle Truck‘s subject matter proved too risqué for Apple, which resulted in the game’s rejection from Apple’s iOS app review process.
Replacing the illegal immigrants with stuffed animals and the Mexican-US border for the entrance of a zoo, the satirical Smuggle Truck became the benign Snuggle Truck, which eventually made its way to Android, Windows, Mac, Linux and Steam.
It’s an interesting story, but the Smuggle Truck‘s “harmless” reskin has stripped it of its satirical edge. Therefore, those unfamiliar with the game’s transformation are unlikely to warm to Snuggle Truck‘s snugly premise. Unfortunately, even though the original Smuggle Truck and Snuggle Truck is available to buy as a single, interchangeable application for Windows and Mac, the Steam version contains no “Smuggle mode” whatsoever
As previously mentioned, Snuggle Truck requires players to drive their truck to the end of an undulating, two-dimensional landscape while trying to keep their snugly cargo from launching themselves out of the truck’s trailer. The game features a basic physics engine that will be extremely familiar to fans of the Trials series with the up and down keys controlling the gas and the left and right keys controlling the tilted angle of the truck. Granted, Snuggle Truck‘s gameplay is unlikely to impress, yet the game still manages to become engaging via its medal system.
Each stage has five medals that can be obtained in any order – three for increasingly good performance, one for a speed run and one for getting all the animals safely cross the finish line. Since a total number of medals must be obtained before access to harder levels is granted, Snuggle Truck encourages repeated attempts at previously completed stages with to gain new medals. This not only increases the replayability and the general time spent playing Snuggle Truck, but gives players a much needed sense of progression as previously unbeatable challenges are revisited and completed with newly acquired skill.
There’s a fair few levels to get through, but persistent players will make it to the end of Snuggle Truck eventually. Thankfully there’s a treasure trove of additional levels to downloadable from both Owlchemy Labs and from other players. This is made possible through a easy to use level creator and a robust upload system that allows players to easily share their levels with everyone else.
Snuggle Truck can be played at a large range of resolutions and at varying levels of detail, allowing for the game to be played on the most basic laptops without any problems. However, those with more powerful computers won’t benefit as, regardless of the game’s graphical configuration, its aesthetics are basic and somewhat bland.
The uninspired cartoon truck fits in with the three, samey environments it races through, but its brightly coloured cargo seem out of place – lost without the context of Snuggle Truck‘s controversial development history. Conversely, the knowledge of Snuggle Truck‘s former incarnation as Smuggle Truck only goes to highlight the hasty reskin of Smuggle Truck by Owlchemy Labs – a reskin that does the game a great disservice
A plethora of freely downloadable, alternate truck designs – which include brony, national flag and Christmas pandas themes – add to the craziness, but in a confusing, directionless manner which also adds to Snuggle Truck‘s general lack of aesthetic cohesion.
As is the case with Snuggle Truck‘s graphics, its happy-go-lucky soundtrack would have created an entertaining oxymoron when set to the original Smuggle Truck content. But uncoupled from its former, immigration message, the three to four tunes that make up Snuggle Truck‘s soundtrack are perceived as cheesy and annoying. Snuggle Truck‘s other sound effects are standard fare aside from the amusing “Noooooo!” the toys will occasionally scream when flung fro the back of the speeding truck.
Owlchemy Labs’ greatest failure with regards to Snuggle Truck is a simple one: the absence of the original Smuggle Truck content. Smuggle Truck is in fact available to buy and download sans Steam via its own website. With this in mind, it seems peculiar that the same content – which is essentially a simple swapping of a small amount of in-game objects and sounds – cannot be offered through Steam as an unlockable piece of content or a separate download along with the alternate truck skins.
Some users have reportedly found success in importing Smuggle Truck files into the Steam version post-installation, so why can’t the same content be made available to those who have paid for Snuggle Truck through Steam, just through more legitimate means? If this were the case, then Snuggle Truck would very likely become more memorable to players and more attractive to potential buyers. The lack of Smuggle Truck content doesn’t actually affect the quality of Snuggle Truck per se, but one can’t help but wonder if it would have been a “stronger” game if it were included.
Snuggle Truck‘s mere existence will likely seem confusing to those unfamiliar with its past. As a simple 2D race-to-the-finish style game with the most basic of physics, the game has only its solid level creator and its large stash of user created content to set it apart from the myriad other indie experiences out there. Even so, the uninspired gameplay mechanics will only hold the attention of players for so long before becoming stale.
Ultimately, Snuggle Truck works best as a “casual” gaming experience played infrequently and in short bursts, but it lacks the depth and charm that makes the most successful indie games so appealing. As such, Snuggle Truck is difficult to recommend over the more unique and imaginative indie and “casual” videogame titles out there.