Look at the multitude of games available on the iPad, and you’ll find a similar theme across many of them: they’re bigger versions of their iPhone counterparts. They’re touchscreen enabled, sport colorful graphics, and are plenty fun — but they often fail to take advantage of the fact that the iPad can accommodate two or more people sitting next to each other playing on the same device, the way they would with the classic table-top games of yore. Koduco is a new Y Combinator company that is looking to fill this niche with an array of multiplayer games designed for the tablet form factor. And if their first game is any indication, they may be onto something special.
Koduco has already created a handful of traditional board game apps, but their first game to really embrace this collaborative experience launches today. It’s called PongVaders (iTunes Link), and it’s damn fun — I spent far more time testing it than I needed to. Instead of relying on a split screen or virtual D-pad (both of which the Koduco founders detest), you sit directly across from a friend and use your finger to play a mashup of Pong and Space Invaders. And then the real fun begins.
One key element in this collaborative gameplay is the physical interaction that Koduco integrates into its games — instead of keeping the iPad flat on your tabletop, the game prompts players to pick it up and move it in tandem. In the case of PongVaders, you can only vanquish the final alien in each stage by physically steering your laser pellets, swerving your iPad in the air to navigate around obstacles (it’s like a space-age version of those metal-ball labyrinth games). There’s something fundamentally enjoyable about this physical teamwork that you just don’t get when you’re simply poking buttons on the screen. In most multiplayer video games your teammate could just as easily be relaying commands over the web from 500 miles away — PongVaders feels much more like playing a board game or foosball in person.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these games are perfect for breaking the ice when you’re meeting someone for the first time, or to flirt with the cute girl who sits next to you in history class. Koduco’s founders say that it’s also great for parents playing with their kids. I can’t picture many 16-year-old guys sitting side by side playing these games (any more than I can picture them playing board games), but the appeal seems broad otherwise.
Koduco has more games in the works, including one called Rocket Squid that will involve controlling six tentacles at once (you’ll need two or three people huddled around an iPad to do it). Provided Koduco can leverage this collaborative gaming mechanic without making it seem tired or gimmicky, I suspect their series of games will prove quite successful.