App of the Day: Doodle God

Go ahead, make my deity.

Version tested iPhone

Doodle God has been around for a while but, as a discerning gamer who refuses to follow the common herd, there's a good chance you've flicked past it while browsing the App Store or Android Market. After all, only desperate shovelware knock-offs use the ubiquitous "Doodle" prefix to ensnare the undiscriminating, right?

Wrong, at least in this case. Doodle God is actually that rarest of things, a game that refuses to fit into any single genre and so has instead created its own. Despite the title, it's not really a god game, although you will be creating more things than you ever did in Civilization. And it's not really a puzzle game, even though there are times when it will have you scratching your head for days. It's... well, let me explain.

The game starts with just four tiles: earth, air, fire and water. It's up to you to start combining things to see what happens. So, for example, you put earth and water together and - in a quick burst of hallelujah - you've created the concept of "swamp". Combine air and fire, and you create "energy". Now combine energy and swamp, and marvel at the fact that you have called forth life itself.

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Oli combined sand and alcohol on holiday recently, and invented sunburn.

But these are just the first basic steps in a game that will take you through the entire history of the cosmos, as depicted through simple picture tiles. You'll create mythical creatures and abstract concepts, modern machines and social systems. You're always combining, experimenting, searching for that moment of inspiration that lets you pluck an idea out of the hundreds of tiles available to you.

Once you've filled out all the tiles, the game evolves to the next stage, discarding some categories and introducing new ones. In this simple manner, it provides a canny reflection of our own development, as magic and myth disappear to be replaced with science and technology.

It may sound rather dry, but Doodle God has a wicked sense of humour. Every successful creation comes with a quotation, occasionally profound but just as likely to be ironic or downright cheeky. The creation of life, for instance, comes with a reminder from Oscar Wilde that "Life is too important to be taken seriously."

Even the combinations themselves can be darkly witty and far from reverential. Combine a human and blood and you get a vampire. Combine a vampire with a human and you just get two vampires. Music plus alcohol equals "rock and roll". Corpse plus electricity produces "death metal". Introduce sex to humans and you get "fun".

If you do get completely stuck, which is quite likely as the number of tiles mounts up, exponentially multiplying the possible combinations, there's a useful time-limited hint system that will suggest two categories containing an as-yet-undiscovered combination. Or you could look them all up online, but then you'd miss the point of the game.

This isn't a game where "getting to the end" is a goal in itself. It is, quite literally, about the journey and the thought processes the game requires to get there. Doodle God is often silly and irreverent, but you still find yourself pondering philosophically as you try to reverse-engineer millions of years of human evolution.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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