I’m not a hardcore gamer. I’m not anywhere near Theresa and Pritpaul. I mean, I play video games. I have for a while. I have fond memories of Mega Man 2 for the NES…and by “memories” I mean “from last week, when I played the clone of it on my Wii.” I’m not really that out of touch; I’ve just had an evolving relationship. I played Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation and I adored ICO and Shadow of the Colossus for the Playstation 2, but…honestly that is around where I started falling out of touch with the big gaming properties. I own a Wii, but aside from Resident Evil IV I mostly use it to play ports of old games or retro-style games like New Super Mario Brothers or the new GoldenEye. What all this means in practice is that I guess I’m what you call as “casual gamer.” In fact, I would say the majority of the games I play are either in a browser window or on my cell phone. Particularly the latter, so I’ve decided to share my favorite games with you all.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is easily my favorite game for my phone (or iPad). Heck, it is probably my favorite game of the last few years…I’m pretty gonzo for it. Sword & Sworcery is a game straight out of the old eight bit tradition, but with the lessons learned in the days since then built in. You play The Scythian, a woman who hates rainbows, on a woeful errand of woe. The game has a patter to it where quippy slang is mixed in with Campbellian and Jungian lingo to create a tone that is really unique. You navigate both a hostile fictional world and a world of dreams where the phases of the moon—the real, actual moon in the real, actual sky—determine the qualities of the dreamworld at any given time. Largely a puzzle game in form, Sword & Sworcery’s pretentions of being a shared mythopoeic experiment are…not entirely unfounded. I found it very affecting, both as a game and as a paean to yesteryear.
God of Blades
If Sword & Sworcery is the subtle poetry of casual games, God of Blades is the raucous heavy metal. It is the soundtrack to a Moorcock novel, as a pale and forgotten hero—the Nameless King or the Whispering Lady—runs across an eternal landscape, swinging an improbably massive sword at an ever-onrushing horde of enemies, fighting alone against an infinite darkness. You are a hero of pulp fantasy—in fact, each level has a fictional paperback novel cover associated with it—in a “swipe” based game. Drag your finger across the screen to shatter your enemies’ swords, to cleave their skulls, or to send them plummeting into their cohorts. Most of the foes are cannon fodder, minions, but the mini-bosses are no joke, and when the game gets difficult…it gets difficult. I’m still stuck in my final climactic battle with the Sable King, and I figure in the grand tradition of video games, there is probably an even worse puppeteer lurking behind him to face in the eleventh hour.
By now you’ve probably heard of Kingdom Rush without me needing to tell you about it. It is such a tightly put together little tower defense game that everyone who plays it has a sort of visceral “yeah!” feeling after they get through the intro. Simple mechanics—click to build one of four towers, click to upgrade, and then branch out at the top level for eight advanced towers, paired with elegant enemy design, some have armor against physical attacks, some have magic resistance, some fly, some have regeneration, so on—to make a game that is just…really playable. I’ve long since beaten every level on every difficulty, including the pay-to-play premium levels and all the heroic and iron levels, but I keep returning to play it again because, well, it is just a nice feeling, building a line of defense and then watching demons and wargs and yetis go through it like gremlins in a blender.
Canabalt is probably the game that single-handedly turned me into a casual gamer. You are a guy running in a straight line. The only button is jump. You just run and jump…across the rooftops of buildings while in the background some kind of post-human revolution or alien invasion is tearing the city apart. Oh sure, you should be focusing on the foreground—some buildings crumble, or you have to jump into a window on a building across the way, sometimes bombs drop from the sky, you have to avoid tripping over air conditioners, huge spaceships crash suddenly, the usual stuff—but the action beyond that is eye catching and enigmatic. Are those fighting mecha? That one doesn’t seem too…humanoid. Is that the mothership? Oh wait, is that a space elevator? I’m not sure what is going on in the story of Canabalt, but my best score is 27,084 meters…and I bet you can’t beat it!
We’re all obsessed with Adventure Time now, right? After that Ice King and Marceline episode, “I Remember You,” I needed a break from the delicious ache of heartbreaking melancholy, and Jumping Finn has just what I need. In terms of game play, there isn’t anything unusual here—you know, one of those “back and forth” power meters you have to tap just right, another button that slowly reloads with time—but because it is skinned with Adventure Time miscellanea, I don’t really care. Jake kicks Finn in the pants, and he goes flying, hopefully hitting a cloud or Marceline for a boost, or landing on Lady Rainicorn or a comet for a ride, all while avoiding the penguin minions of the Ice King. Points allow you to buy a modest suite of upgrades, but this isn’t a thinking game; this is a time waster and a good one at that.
What about you? Do you have any games to recommend?
Mordicai Knode isn’t kidding; he really wants good game recommendations. His Twitter and his Tumblr are usually pretty general, but when he gets caught up in a gaming binge they can fill up quick with related tweets, questions and fanart.