Stagehand flips the platform game formula on its head

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This ingenious "reverse platformer" is one heck of a game.
Photo: Stagehand

To achieve maximum success, iOS game developers need an idea that’s both reassuringly familiar and strikingly new. That’s exactly what Stagehand delivers: The new platform game employs a clever twist on the popular endless-runner genre, with a sprinkle of ’90s classic Lemmings thrown in for good measure.

Stagehand is a game that looks like a side-scrolling platformer, but instead of controlling the character, you move the stage,” developer Matt Comi told Cult of Mac. “We call it a ‘reverse platformer.’ The protagonist, Frank, runs and jumps all by himself. It’s the player’s job to make sure he doesn’t run into walls.”

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A platformer with a twist.
Photo: Stagehand

It looks a bit like the Super Mario Bros. and other side-scrolling juggernauts. It’s instantly recognizable but surprisingly different: If you don’t adjust the scenery correctly, Frank will run to his doom. Move things correctly, and he’ll reach the end of each stage with flying colors!

With hundreds of thousands of competitors in the App Store, not to mention gamers’ notoriously short attention spans, crafting a hit iOS game is anything but easy. Coming up with a killer combination that grabs the attention of the masses can be incredibly lucrative, though: Super Mario Run earned Nintendo an estimated $4 million in its first day on the market. iOS apps earned developers, including gamemakers, an astonishing $20 billion in 2016.

Big Bucket: The team behind Stagehand

Comi, who lives in Australia, says the idea for Stagehand came during a trip to Portland, Oregon, to visit Neven Mrgan, the artist who created the game’s retro-flavored graphics.

“The idea came from thinking about ways you might strip back a platformer, given that you don’t have a D-pad,” he said. “We figured that the player’s job would be to build the stage. You would have an inventory of stage pieces, you’d lay out coins, that sort of thing. When I returned to Australia, we decided that our next game was going to be some version of that idea. Over time, that idea was slowly refined into Stagehand.”

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The best deathtraps start in the simplest ways.
Photo: HEADING

The three-man team behind Stagehand started working together back in 2007, around the time the iPhone was released. The third part of the Big Bucket brain trust is Cabel Sasser, a talented musician who provides the soundtracks to their games (to date, they’ve developed three: The Incident, Space Age and now Stagehand).

“I’m really happy with the degree of difficulty,” Comi said. “Too easy and you get bored quickly. Too hard and you rage-quit. Stagehand is instantly approachable, but hard to perfect.” (“Also the deaths are great,” he added. “I still think death-by-squish is hilarious.”)

Will Stagehand become an iOS hit?

Stagehand only appeared last week, which means it’s too soon to start talking about it as one of the year’s big commercial successes. However, it’s a lot of fun, and Comi said the response so far has been “amazing.”

“People really seem to be loving it,” Comi said. “We don’t have any sense of how it’ll pan out financially, but fingers crossed.”

You can download Stagehand from the App Store for $1.99. After that, Frank’s fate is in your hands. Or, well, fingers.