Ridiculous Fishing (Vlambeer)
Ridiculous Fishing is an arcade game with a three-act structure. Act 1: A fisher in his boat, you drop your line into the sea. Tilt the phone left and right to avoid fish and get as deep as you possibly can. Act 2 begins once you eventually and inevitably fail Act 1: bump into a fish, and you begin to reel the line in. Now you must hit as many fish as possible, accumulating dozens of them on the end of the line. Act 3 begins once the line returns to the surface: the fish are flung high into the air and must be blasted with the fisherman’s firearm for cash that can be spent on longer fishing lines, better weapons, and other upgrades.
It’s a hypnotic rhythm in itself, but the upgrades also add a sense of exploration. The deeper you go the more exotic fish you will find. The more fish you capture, the higher you will fling them, and the more celestial bodies you will see. The game constantly swings from seeing how low you can go, to how high. Decorating it all is a distinct and eye-catching visual style of thick borders and slanted lines and diamond fish.
The cloning saga that saw another company duplicate their earlier Radical Fishing before Ridiculous Fishing was finished almost destroyed Vlambeer, sapping their motivation. But for anyone on the outside who has followed Vlambeer and their various incredible games, it was clear this wouldn’t destroy them. Vlambeer’s ideas might be easily cloned, but the feel of their games is something only Vlambeer can achieve. There is a crunchiness to the interactions in their games, a satisfying meatiness to every button press. And, sure enough, when Ridiculous Fishing finally did come out earlier this year, it far surpassed its cloner on its own merit. It was the kind of game only Vlambeer could make, and it gave them the success they well deserved.
FJORDS (Kyle Reimergartin)
I haven’t played enough Fjords to really understand or appreciate it yet, but I’ve played enough to know I need to put it on this list. I am intimidated by Fjords and my ability to hack (a term I use literally) its world. It feels like walking into a pitch black room I have never entered before and not knowing if it is a ballroom or a broom closet. It’s remarkable but I still don’t quite know why or how. Indiestatik perhaps can give you more information.
Time Surfer (Kumobius)
2013 was not a particularly exciting year for iOS. There were some really standout games, to be sure, but I certainly spent less time checking Game Center leaderboards than previous years. Or, perhaps 3DS and Vita games just started dominating the time I would have usually spent on iOS titles. Time Surfer was an exception, though, and I spent many a train ride or night on the couch chasing those highscores, boasting and lamenting on Twitter.
Some have dismissed it as a Tiny Wings clone, but I prefer to see it as Tiny Wings with a solution proposed for the one thing I hated about Tiny Wings. That is, in Tiny Wings, all that hard-earned momentum could be lost in an instant with a mistimed swoop. Once you picked up speed, it became a matter of luck whether you landed properly or not. Time Surfer’s time-reversal mechanic offers a solution to this—you still make the inevitable mistake, but now you can rewind to undo the mistake. Rewinding is a valuable energy, however, and you want to react the instant you land wrong, rewinding just far enough to adjust. There’s a twitchiness to it as you stay attentive, hoping not to miss your own mistake. You need to know that that one is the one you should rewind to keep your momentum up.
It’s unfortunate and unfair, the clone label, applied simply for building a game with the same fundamental mechanic. As though every FPS is a Wolfenstein 3D clone. As though a song can’t use the same core instruments as another to do something original. I am no less interested in the games that fine tune and iterate than I am in the games hat attempt something that has never been done before. To only be interested in those games that are ‘completely’ new is to like precious few games.
Melbourne-based game designer Harry Lee has been making a bit of a splash on the local scene over the past couple of years. His minimal but ingenious games such as Impasse and Midas have turned heads, their deceptively simple presentation hiding oceans of clever design. He’s been central for a range of local groups and events, such as the Glitchmark meetings and, perhaps most importantly, as co-director of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival. Oh, and he is twenty-years-old.
Stickets is Lee’s two-man studio Wanderland’s first commercial release. Like all his games, it at first seems deceptively simple: a match-3 game mixed with a tile game. Place L-shaped tiles, each constructed from three different coloured squares, on a grid. When three squares of the same colour are touching, tap that group to make those squares disappear. The goal is to place as many L-shaped tiles as you possibly can before you can place no more. It’s slow, deliberate, and meditative. You have all the time in the world to choose where to place the next tile, and where you might need to place the one after that. It’s a game about thinking and planning, not about rash decisions or reflexes. This is no less true for the Timed mode, that required you to completely reprogram how your mind approaches the game, but still rewarded careful deliberation over rash actions. The turning point in this mode, for me, was the realisation that time only counted down if I made an action; I still had all the time in the world to just think.
Underlying it all is subtle but ingenious sound design. Each position on the grid makes a different sound when tapped. Move a three-square tile over the grid, and chords are strummed. I’ve spent many minutes just playing with the Stickets board like some kind of abstract instrument.
Despite Lee’s youth, Stickets has the feel of a confident designer that knows exactly what they are doing. It’s a wonderful achievement from someone who is going to be a defining character in Australian videogames in the coming years.
American Dream (Terry Cavanagh, Stephen Lavelle, Jasper Byrne, Tom Morgan-Jones)
Apparently this game is over two years old, but I had never heard of it before going through Terry Cavanagh’s collection on the Ouya store (side note: I wish more developers would use the Ouya as a dumping ground for their otherwise browser-based and free small games). Much like with Knightmare Tower, I lost an entire night sucked into American Dream’s absurd world of trendy furniture, cartoon orgies, and celebrities traded on the stock market.
That’s… pretty much it, really. You move between a screen of your house, where you are able to spend money on seasonably trendy furniture to replace that furniture you bought last season, and the stock market, where you buy and sell shares on Sylvester Stallone and Madonna and Michael Jackson. Make enough furniture, and then you can buy more furniture. The ultimate goal is, simply, to make a million dollars, but if you want crazy sex parties, then keeping your furniture up to date is essential.
It’s a simple, cynical, and nonsensical game, but its slick and lo-fi presentation is like having your eyeballs sucked into a whirlpool. Of utmost importance are the quick transitions between the game’s various screens. These tie everything together. Be it the quick screen that representations your character travelling from home to the stockmarket, or the montage orgies of the sex parties. They all give the game this hyperalert feeling that everything has to be done now. You must buy and sell and fuck and buy furniture and it all has to be done yesterday, like some 80s cocaine-fuelled capitalist dream. No time to talk, I gotta go buy 200 shares in Barbara Streisand.
If I had attempted to play this game on my computer, sitting at my desk lurched over a keyboard, I would have played it for a few minutes, thought, “heh, that’s cool” and moved on. On a console in my loungeroom, however, lounging on my couch with a controller in my hand, I got sucked into the game fully, staying up late to see it through. It’s a prime example of why I think the Ouya (and micro-consoles generally) are important: to take that experience that was previously constricted to the desktop and put it in the loungeroom, an environment where many such as myself feel far more able to devote time and attention to a game.