Monday, July 18, 2016
You can get Clicker Heroes at https://www.clickerheroes.com/
An idle game in which your stable of heroes kill monsters for gold. As I assume is true of most idle games, its structure is based on a series of concentric gameplay loops. First you're clicking monsters to kill them and collect gold, which you use to hire and upgrade heroes. The heroes make the monster loop faster, so after a while you stop focusing on individual monsters and instead use the constant flow of gold to manage your heroes, occasionally using their powers (which are on cooldowns of varying length) to make a lot of progress quickly. But despite being in the title, the heroes are just one of several loops - eventually you start "ascending", sacrificing your heroes to start over but collecting "hero souls" which you use to upgrade "ancients" that give you passive bonuses that make the hero loop faster. Then you start "transcending", sacrificing your ancients to start over but collecting "ancient souls" which you use to upgrade "outsiders" that give you passive bonuses that make the ancient loop faster. There are a couple of other mechanics, such as relics that are essentially another facet of the ancient loop and mercenaries which grant rewards on timers. And somewhat evilly, there are "guilds" that present a lightweight social obligation factor through daily "raids" that must be collaborated on to make any real progress. It can be satisfying, in a mindless way, to check in on your increasingly-huge numbers for a few minutes here and there. But ultimately, the game is a treadmill, doling out progression on longer and longer schedules. As such, the only way to win is not to play.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Race The Sun
You can get Race The Sun at http://flippfly.com/racethesun/
Race The Sun is an endless runner with a compelling atmosphere. Deaths are slightly too spectacular and flow-disrupting, but the mission-based unlock system means they are also the only way to get access to new mechanics - despite the game's continual navel-gazing about the inevitability of failure, failure is the only way to progress. As a result, the pacing feels slow and oddly forced - rather than honing skill on a well-tuned challenge, it feels like running laps in an incomplete game in order to earn the next piece. For example, the first few runs are guaranteed to be cut short by running out of time when the sun sets, because you have to unlock the pickups that extend your time by raising the sun - after unlocking them, I never again lost due to running out of time. Some runs later, I crashed because I went through what was obviously a gateway - but I hadn't yet unlocked the gateway mechanic. If the game didn't force you to spend so much time on an incomplete version of itself and if it were a little harder to die, the core gameplay and aesthetics would be great at creating flow.
Monday, July 4, 2016
You can get Lumines at http://store.steampowered.com/app/11900/ or on the PlayStation, XBox, or iOS stores.
Lumines is a falling-block puzzle game where you must group like-colored blocks into rectangles to clear them away. Every so often you switch to a new song and corresponding visual skin, and the speed of the song determines the speed at which blocks are cleared away. Slower songs make it easier to rack up large combos, but also leave more time for the board to overfill and end the game. The puzzle gameplay is fairly straightforward and can actually be solved deterministically - once you know how to play, you can do so indefinitely until the blocks fall too fast for your reflexes to keep up. At that point, all that's really left is the atmosphere created by the songs and skins, which vary in different Lumines games and may or may not be to your liking.
Monday, June 27, 2016
You can get Little Inferno at http://tomorrowcorporation.com/littleinferno
Little Inferno is a satirical game where you burn things to get money to buy more things to burn. It's a send-up of games that use compulsion loops and energy mechanics to keep players playing and paying, illustrating the unhealthy cyclic nature of the behavior they incentivize. It's implied that children are rewarded for burning things in order to keep them warm since there's a bit of an ice age setting in - but that this ice age is due to all the smoke in the atmosphere from everyone burning things. The interactions of the burning objects are entertaining and fire is pretty, but it's mostly a message game. After a few hours, there are some big surprises when it's time to deliver the moral, which is that you should break out of these loops and go do constructive things in the real world. For the right audience, this game is a wake-up call. For others, it's just a diversion.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald
You can get Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald at https://crowscrowscrows.itch.io/dr-langeskov-the-tiger-and-the-terribly-cursed-emerald-a-whirlwind-heist or http://store.steampowered.com/app/409160/
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is a short exploration game that playfully deconstructs narrative power-fantasy games by casting them as elaborate stage productions and putting you backstage in one. Both the scale and the humor are magnified by the game leaving a lot to your imagination, keeping up a frantic pace during which a lot goes hilariously wrong, and setting up a few gags that pay off later leading up to an ironic ending. Don't bother with a second playthrough or with any of the things around the game - the achievements, patch notes, and a lot of things people say about the game online are all lies.
Monday, May 30, 2016
To Be Or Not To Be
You can get To Be Or Not To Be at http://gamebookadventures.com/gamebooks/to-be-or-not-to-be/
To Be Or Not To Be is Shakespeare's Hamlet as a comedic choose-your-own-adventure. The text is clever and fun to read, as to be expected of writer Ryan North. I really enjoyed my first playthrough, where I chose the Shakespeare-official options to familiarize myself with the normal story. I wasn't able to stick with the game much longer after that, though, because the UX is inexplicably bad for repeat plays. Most visual novels have this stuff down but for some reason this game's engine doesn't use any of the standard assists - it doesn't mark which options you've already chosen, and you can't fast-forward through stuff you've already seen. That means too much time spent sitting through boring stuff and not enough time spent reading hilarious and awesome new stuff. You can also just buy this as a straight-up book, which might be better since you can flip around more easily.
Friday, May 27, 2016
You can get Splatoon at http://splatoon.nintendo.com/buy/
Splatoon is a colorful third-person shooter with a strong and consistent punk aesthetic. The main draw of the game is the online arena-based competitive multiplayer which tasks you with painting the area with your team's color of ink and only incidentally with shooting up the opposing team members. Since you're essentially using water guns with fairly short range, combat is kinetic and intimate. There's a lot of clever and satisfying synergy in the mechanics: your score is determined by how much territory you cover in your own ink, but that ink also allows you to hide, travel faster, and restock your ammo. But there's an extended progression system that means you're never playing on a level field and it's ages before you can customize your outfit and loadout to any significant degree. Plus it features the usual frustrations of online multiplayer - you can get booted if the Wii U decides your connection isn't good enough, you spend a lot of time in the lobby waiting for enough players, and even when everything works your experience depends on the behavior of random strangers (and it always sucks to lose a match because you had an idler on your team). Bot matches would have gone a long way to rescue it, but are not available. There is a single-player mode, but it's totally separate - the progression is disconnected, you can't customize your character, and it's a much more Mario-like series of levels that uses a ton of mechanics not found in the multiplayer. There are a couple of arena levels that are a blast, but they are few and far between. All in all, I love the game's world, but this is not quite the game I want to play in it. For now, I'm just hoping for spinoff titles.
Monday, May 23, 2016
The Beginner's Guide
You can get The Beginner's Guide at http://thebeginnersgui.de/
The Beginner's Guide is a narrated exploration game which is also a meditation on a particular type of unhealthy fan/creator relationship, exploring themes of hero worship, difficulties of the creative process, and imposing our own meaning on others' work that reflects more on us than on them. It's a message game, aimed at an audience you may or may not be a member of, but either way it's skillfully done and you'll likely be thinking about the game long after the hour and a half or so it takes to walk through it.
Friday, May 20, 2016
You can get Gone Home at http://www.gonehomegame.com/
Gone Home is an exploration game that has you exploring your family home to find out what's happened in your year abroad and where your mysteriously-absent parents and sister are. The story is told through objects, found messages, and a series of audio logs. The central arc is about your younger sister, but other relatives have stories too and they all revolve around the importance of being true to yourself and of finding people who accept you that way.
Where the game succeeds is in its characters and atmosphere - the people feel real, piecing together the narrative from environmental clues is fun, and the subtly spooky state of the house is used to great effect. Where the game fails is in its most game-like aspects - to properly constrain your movement, the house is set up in an implausible and immersion-breaking way requiring you to memorize lock combinations and get one key to unlock the thing containing the next key a few too many times. (There's also a ridiculous number of cassette players and phone books lying around.)
A lot of people have latched on to the gayness of some of the characters as what this game is about, but honestly that's incidental to the true theme of being who you are.
Monday, May 16, 2016
You can get Glitchhikers at http://glitchhikers.com/
Glitchhikers is a meditative mood piece that for twenty minutes or so simulates the experience of a lonely late-night drive where nothing seems real but everything seems profound. The game is carefully crafted to create the right atmosphere - from the tail lights ahead that you can never quite catch up to, to the simplified and nearly-automatic driving that feels like highway hypnosis, to the dreamy insomniac quality of the radio music and DJ, to the slow heavy blinks of the player character. What really matters, though, are the conversations you have with your surreal passengers. Play at night with the lights off for the best experience.