The tastiest storm in recorded history

There was a time when graphics and technical prowess were the main driving forces behind video games. The recent rise of mobile and downloadable games has changed that, offering developer and player alike a sandbox to rediscover what games are capable of when you trim away the pomp and circumstance. If you need an example, Heads Up! Hot Dogs is a pretty good one.

I couldn’t say so with certainty, but something tells me Heads Up! Hot Dogs is heavily inspired by the quarter-guzzling arcade games of yore. Its conceit is a simple one, the only goal being to balance hot dogs on the heads of random passersby. If you leave five hot dogs on the ground for too long – or lose them through other means – the level ends. It’s pretty easy to see when you’d need to insert a quarter in this situation.

Heads Up! Hot Dogs

There’s a whole lot of complexity within that straightforward concept. Cops, for example, will shoot the hot dogs off the heads of others; dogs will gobble them up if they walk by one on the ground. People also travel at various speeds, and the game will award you bonus points if you land a hot dog on the head of someone going fast. You’ll have countless chances to do this, as hot dogs rain from the sky with quite a bit of consistency.

There are seven levels in total, each more challenging than the last. This translates to more gun-toting cops, more hungry dogs, faster people, and even floors where the hot dogs immediately die (for lack of a better word) when they land. You need to get a silver rating in a level to unlock the next, although the game is pretty lax about what’s required to pull that off. Still, and perhaps it’s my fault for not expecting it, but I was surprised at how difficult the game was in later areas. Barring a profound sense of shame, though, there’s no real punishment to failing a level.

One of the more interesting elements of the game is how points are rewarded. If a hot dog so much as makes contact with someone’s head, you’ll earn somewhere in the ballpark of 15-25 points. If it stays there until they walk off the screen, you’ll earn 100. There are also random food items that fall on occasion, such as chips and rice balls. If you successfully balance any of those on a person’s head, you earn quite a few extra points. The tactic I found the most useful was placing the same hot dogs or other food items on as many heads as possible, though it can get a bit risky. Then again, no one ever said the art of hot dog balancing would be safe.

Heads Up! Hot Dogs

The game’s chiptune soundtrack and 16-bit graphics pair perfectly with the goofy, simple gameplay. The faces of characters are a definite highlight, as they change to convey happiness or anger when a hot dog is dropped on them. It sounds like a simple touch, but it makes the bizarre act all the more satisfying – especially when you upset a “hipster” by knocking a hot dog out of his hand, only to see him beaming yet again when you drop one on his head.

I say this with no irony: Heads Up! Hot Dogs is one of the best arguments for smartphone/tablet gaming I’ve seen yet. It’s the kind of game that couldn’t exist anywhere else, other than maybe a browser (but even then the controls would suffer). It draws you in with its bizarre concept, and keeps you hooked with its genuinely enjoyable gameplay. Its sole mechanic may be a simple one, but there’s enough complexity here to keep you hooked for quite some time.