Strange Flavour: The Devs of Warpack: Grunts
UK-based developer Strange Flavour was founded in 2001, but its team’s roots in the games industry go back a bit farther. Brothers Aaron and Adam Fothergill have been working as game developers since the mid-1990s, when they worked on fondly-remembered classics for the Commodore Amiga such as 1994’s Jetstrike and 1995’s Base Jumpers. A couple of years later, the two joined Argonaut Software, the famed developer behind Star Fox and the Super FX add-on chip for Nintendo’s Super NES. They continued working on various projects there until 2004, when Argonaut had to close its doors.
A few years prior, they had founded Strange Flavour. In the beginning, it was just a way for the brothers to tinker on small MacOS projects. They hooked up with publisher Freeverse, and some of these little games became quite popular. Airburst, a variation on the Atari classic Warlords, was particularly well-liked, earning awards and accolades for its colorful visuals and enjoyable gameplay. Freeverse had always been a particularly strong supporter of Apple’s hardware, so it was only natural that when the iPhone came about, the publisher was there almost from the start. Strange Flavour took an equal interest, getting in early with Plank, an updated version of its earlier Mac title ToySight.
Strange Flavour’s first big success on the platform came with the release of Flick Fishing in late 2008. The title was a smash hit, selling well over a million copies and earning wide acclaim from critics and players alike. They followed that up in February of 2009 with SlotZ Racer, an impressive slot-car racing game that was another big success. For its next release, Strange Flavour would try its hand at something a little different from the sports games the team had recently been releasing. Calling back to those 1990s home computer days, the brothers would put together a game that seemed partly like an homage to Sensible Software’s 1993 Amiga sensation, Cannon Fodder.
Cannon Fodder was an odd little hybrid of top-down action and light strategy. You controlled a squad of small soldiers and guided them around maps filled with enemy soldiers, obstacles to hide behind, and extra weapon pick-ups. The player’s units were famously fragile, which explains the title of the game. Since they were also dramatically outnumbered by the enemy on most maps, success required careful planning and proper execution. Those who tried to play the game as though their characters were the invincible killing machines seen in many other games would quickly be disavailed of that notion.
Warpack: Grunts has a great deal in common with that game, including its odd thematic mash-up of cute characters and the concept of war. It even features a similarly cheeky sense of humor. But likely as a result of keeping in mind the audience and its playing habits when compared to home computer users, Strange Flavour made its take on the idea a bit more streamlined. Some of the strategic elements were removed in favor of making a pure mission-based action game. At least the core conceit remains somewhat similar in one way; the player’s soldiers died easily and were hard to replace, forcing the player to consider situations carefully before running in.
The game was released on June 29th, 2009, and although it didn’t have anywhere near the impact the two previous releases from the team had had, Warpack: Grunts quickly found an eager fanbase that appreciated the game’s solid action, intuitive controls, and lengthy, challenging campaign. Unfortunately, the game’s publisher Freeverse was acquired and subsequently shut down by another major publisher, and Warpack: Grunts was ultimately delisted along with many other titles. In 2019, the game was updated and restored as part of the GameClub library, bringing it back to the App Store for a new generation of players to enjoy.