App of the Day: Ragdoll Blaster 3

Physically appealing.

Ragdoll Blaster 3 is one of the most consistently inventive games on iOS. Pretty surprising, eh? The previous two games in this series have been on my phone for years and survived every single app cull. Doodle Jump? A memory. Slice It? Gone. Angry Birds? Don't make me laugh.

Each Ragdoll Blaster game has tried a new visual treatment - the first game had a gorgeous low-fi style on graph paper backgrounds, while the sequel went for a moodier steam-powered toybox look. Ragdoll Blaster 3 has echoes of the former style with much more colour, but unfortunately the temptation of LittleBigPlanet has been too much. These ragdolls are now bargain-basement Sackboys. It doesn't matter in-game, because they're always so small and moving so quick you're never really looking at the dolls, but otherwise the comparison is so obvious as to be embarrassing.

Such crude associations aren't necessary, because anyone who plays Ragdoll Blaster 3 will fall in love. It's a physics-based blend of shooter and puzzler, where you control a cannon that shoots out ragdolls - the speed at which they're fired depends on how far away your finger is from the cannon when it taps. Pretty soon levels pop up with multiple cannons, which are switched between by simply firing ragdolls into them.

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The ragdolls act like ragdolls do - they go flying, splat into walls and fall down with limbs a-jangle. They slide on surfaces, nudge other objects, slowly topple down steps and pile up in corners. Well, up to a maximum of five anyway, a feature that's less to do with processing power than simple practicality. Pretty soon, you're firing so many that the levels would just get jammed up.

Ragdoll Blaster 3's brilliance is all about its puzzle design, a continually inventive series of contraptions large and small that have to be nudged and coaxed into surprising solutions. The elements sound standard - pressure plates, pendulums, magnets, switches, balls and blocks - but the way these tools are combined is rarely obvious.

Each new world also introduces a new type of ragdoll, all of which have slightly different properties. Icy ones slide better, perfect for a series of levels built around half-pipes, while fat pudges require some of the most elegant aiming in the game lest their weight do unwanted things. Fiery ragdolls burn wood, while metal ones are attracted to magnets.

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These varieties of ragdoll tell you that, by this third entry, something new was needed. Unfortunately, their specific capabilities largely play on aspects that were already in Ragdoll Blaster 2, like gravity-surfing around black holes, and cannon-switching between ragdoll types can be a right pain when the target you're trying to hit is near an older cannon. A final big black mark, too, not for having in-app purchases that skip levels and show hints, but for bringing them up with a regularity that's disgusting and intrusive. You'll see them multiple times in every session.

It's impossible to hate Ragdoll Blaster 3, not least because the spirit of cheeky invention at its core has nothing to do with such player-prodding greed. Some of its levels will be familiar to veterans, and it never quite seems as blazingly clever as Ragdoll Blaster 2, but for a threequel this is remarkably fresh. Its best levels are like Mousetrap, a series of chain-reactions that look far-fetched but in practice are inevitable. So despite the begging bowl, Ragdoll Blaster 3 is a delight.

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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