Monday, September 16, 2013

Crayon Physics Deluxe (Petri Purho, 2009)

I've mentioned before how the touch screen interfaces on mobile devices offer both design challenges and opportunities as the game industry tries to move beyond physical buttons. While more traditionally popular genres feel awkward on these platforms, others feel incredibly intuitive, and have managed to flourish. One of the biggest genres in mobile gaming is the physics puzzler. Physics puzzle games such as Cut the Rope, Where's My Water, and the enormous mega-hit Angry Birds series generally give the player a limited number of physical objects to interact with in order to complete a simple task. In the case of Crayon Physics Deluxe, those limitations are thrown out the window as you get to freely create the world as you play.

The basic interface of Crayon Physics Deluxe is about as simple and intuitive as you can get. The screen looks like a piece of paper, and you draw on it using your touch screen or mouse as if you had a crayon. You either already know how to do this, or you're spending your Rumspringa reading video game blogs.

Each level of Crayon Physics Deluxe presents you with a small red ball, and the point of the game is to get the ball to reach a star. It's possible to nudge the ball one way or another, but for the most part it's all about what you draw. The objects you draw take on physical properties responding to forces such as gravity, collisions, and friction. In order to complete each level, you have to figure out what combination of objects will accomplish your task.

Crayon Physics Deluxe essentially becomes an engineering simulation in a way. You can create hinges, ropes, ramps, pulleys, wheels, and even rockets. These can all be combined to create your own makeshift machines as you try to manipulate the ball across the screen.

What I enjoyed most about Crayon Physics Deluxe is that there was never just one right answer. Do you need to get the ball up to a higher platform? Maybe you should draw a cage around it, tie a rope to the cage, and then draw a heavy weight on the other end of the rope that will fall off the opposite edge of the platform pulling the ball up. Maybe you'd rather draw a giant half pipe and Tony Hawk the ball up to the platform. Maybe you're more in the mood for a rocket powered golf club? Go crazy and see what works!

Sometimes it's fun to replay levels different ways to see what all the game will let you do. I managed to create some fairly elaborate machines in some of these levels. I didn't actually need to, but it was nice that the game let me.

It's not a grand adventure or anything, but as far as mobile puzzle games go, it's a fun distraction that will force you to think and be imaginative..

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kirby’s Dream Land (HAL Laboratory/Nintendo, 1992)

Unlike music, movies, or sports, the video game industry doesn't really have any recognizable celebrities. Sure, there are some well known designers who's names hard core gaming fans will recognize, but nobody that would really get stopped for an autograph walking down an average street. What games have instead are mascots, characters that are so recognizable they provide all the fame the industry needs. Mascots such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Duke Nukem, and Lara Croft have faces that you can immediately recognize on a t-shirt or poster. However, the undisputed king of video game mascots has to be Nintendo. Most of their biggest mascots such as Mario, Link, and Samus rose to fame in the 80s, but they still managed to squeeze out a now familiar face or two in the 90s. One of those child-of-the-90s faces belongs to a strange little inflatable blob named Kirby.

Over the past couple of decades, the Kirby franchise has spawned almost two dozen releases on almost every console and handheld Nintendo has created. Most gamers today assume this all started on the NES, or even the SNES, but the first appearance of the iconic face was actually with Kirby's Dream Land on the humble original black and white Game Boy.

Kirby's Dream Land is a simple platforming game about trying to recover stolen food. The casual plot nicely reflects the casual gameplay. Don't expect your typical early platformer hair-ripping-out level of difficulty with this one. This game is a nice short relaxed light-hearted adventure that's aimed at younger audiences, or players new to (or just plain not good at) the platformer genre. The most obvious reason is that in addition to jumping between platforms, you can simply start flying whenever you feel like it. As with Unmechanical, this brings into question whether it should really be considered a platformer at all, but the overall design of the game and its levels make it clear enough what they were aiming at, and getting too picky beyond that just seems a bit silly.

There are different methods of dealing with enemies in Kirby's Dream Land. I mentioned earlier that you can fly in this game, this is accomplished by inhaling and inflating yourself. Once inflated, you can spit out a gust of air to knock back enemies, but this will stop you from flying as well. Another method is to inhale the enemies themselves, and then spit them as projectiles at other enemies. This mechanic might seem familiar to anyone who's played Super Mario World, as it was used while riding on Yoshi as well.

As with many classic games, there is no save option or password. Kirby's Dream Land is always started from the very beginning, and played in a single session. Because of this, and the young audience targeted, the game is kept fairly short. If you're playing it on a modern emulator with save states, or even on the 3DS Virtual Console with the ability to put it away and come back to it later, the game might feel too short, but if you're left with an appetite whetted yet not satiated, there are always plenty more Kirby games to dive into after this one.

The sound, music, and overall pacing of Kirby's Dream Land give the entire experience a very happy and bouncy feel. This is one of those games that you just feel good playing. It's not the greatest game ever, or even the greatest platformer for the Game Boy, but it's a nice relaxing game to play if you're ever in a classic platformer mood, but don't want to put too much effort into it.