The news that Jeff Minter is working on a new Tempest game for Vita probably means GoatUp 2 is the last Lllamasoft title we'll see on iOS for a little while, although his most recent blog suggests he's not abandoned the format entirely. It's a pity for those of us who've enjoyed one of the most prolific spells of the veteran designer's career, even as he's demonstrated increasing frustration at the lack of attention his games have been getting.
Minter might be frustrated, but he surely can't be hugely surprised: the wonky presentation and surreal humour of his games means they are the dictionary definition of 'acquired taste'. As a more conventional platformer than its frantic predecessor, GoatUp 2 might be one of Llamasoft's most accessible releases, but it's also a game where you'll play a level called Bossy Chicken Above Carmarthen, farting a space invader to death on your way to the exit as a fuzzy sample of a tube station announcer warns you to mind the gap. Not that conventional, then.
Your ultimate objective on each level is to collect all the glowing keys before racing to the exit, although it's rarely as simple as that sounds. For starters, you need to keep your goat fed by grazing any grassy surfaces. And while your goat can jump, some stages can only be traversed with a little extra wind power: eating flowers and other foodstuffs gives you the ability to fart, which acts both as a double jump and your main offensive weapon.
Enemies range from perambulatory toilet to rampaging boars and a host of familiar sprites from classics like Manic Miner and Pac-Man, and to defeat them all you'll either need to feed them an air biscuit or guzzle down a cup of tea that makes you briefly invulnerable. On some levels, the queen's watching you, and so you won't gain the ability to fart until you find the hidden curry that gives you unlimited bottom burps. Jeff Minter is 50 years old.
That's not a criticism, by the way. Few creators Minter's age would be capable of making games as gleefully anarchic and vibrant as this. Don't let the presentation convince you this is a ramshackle construction, either: while the opening stages offer a very gentle learning curve to get used to its wacky ideas, most of its 80 stages are brisk, taut challenges, tricksy mazes and obstacle courses filled with pitfalls, hazards and surprises that will defeat you time and again until you've worked out the perfect route to the tube doors. There's a ripple of applause as each level ends - drowned out by a thundering voice reminded you to stand clear of the doors, obviously - and you'll really have to work to earn it.
Better still, the final 20 stages are a playable game design tutorial for GoatUp 2's level editor, a flexible and intuitive tool that will have you creating and sharing within minutes. You probably won't make anything as intelligently designed as the second and third set of levels here, some of which are particularly fiendish, but it's about 17 times more immediate than, say, LittleBigPlanet, and means lazy idiots like me can paint a level into existence, fill it with a few enemies and quite literally fart about within it.
All of which puts GoatUp 2 right up there with Gridrunner as Llamasoft's best work on iOS. It may have one foot in the past, but even with all that methane this is a daisy-fresh delight, as sprightly and joyous as anything on the App Store. In other words, a taste very much worth acquiring.