February 9, 2012 at 10:58 am

Pug Life: Wacky Scottish Developers Strike Again with Dog-Based Synthesizer

pug synthWith its newly-released Pug Synth, Lucky Frame’s animated pugs build on their nascent reputation as the most musical virtual dogs on iOS.

The Scottish development team’s latest pug-themed music app, released on iTunes on Thursday, sees the return of the pistachio-green space pugs who first charmed us by terraforming planets for beat-generating root vegetables (i.e. “beats”) in their popular Pugs Luv Beats game, which we reviewed in all its weird glory.

Like its predecessor, Pug Synth sounds surprisingly good for a cutesy, animated iPhone game starring costumed dogs. It expands on one of my favorite features from the original Pugs Luv Beats: a touch synthesizer that lets you solo over the planet menu in that game, while rifling through compositions.

Essentially an X-Y synthesizer pad in disguise, an instrument you may already be familiar with, Pug Beats features tonal parameters animated with two pugs. Pitch and envelope are controlled by your finger’s position on each respective axis, allowing for smooth melodic sweeps through scale presets as you swipe across the screen firing at floating beats (which look like beets).

Each time you play a note, a stream of hearts emanates from the pugs’ mouths. So yeah, pretty standard synth stuff.

Pug Synth finds even more unusual ways of combining gameplay, and music-making. You can select different backing loops by dressing one or both pugs in hats. The free app comes with a construction helmet and shark fin, with more hats — and thus more loop styles — available for a buck through in app purchase. Tapping the snare drum icon starts or stops the backing loop.

Meanwhile, dressing the pugs in different costumes (of course!) alters their sound by cycling through synth presets. Because you have two pugs to work with in this version, Pug Synth allows for polyphonic duets when swiping with two fingers at once.

This app also picks up where Pugs Luv Beats left off with tonal and tempo controls, allowing users to alter mode, chromatic key, and beats-per-minute from the settings menu.

With this simple app, Lucky Frame expands on what it did best in Pugs Luv Beats: repackaging an intuitive synthesizer in an unintimidating, charming, user-friendly interface. As a coworker noted, the pugs could really be anything (ninjas came to mind). But like the cheesed-off birds that made Rovio‘s Angry Birds such a classic, these pugs bring a flash of character that makes this weird little app all the more memorable.