by Ellen Sweeney
I like big, complicated games. I’ve started to get more into tablet gaming as it’s started to suck less, but even there I tend to be drawn to games that are really pretty complicated in their own right – complex puzzles, thoughtful stories, stunning artwork. However, sometimes a simple idea is executed so perfectly that I just need to marvel at its brilliance for weeks on end and tell everyone I know about it. So here are the so-simple-they’re-genius games you need to know about:
Nidhogg: Named after some Norse god or monster or something that I can’t be bothered to look up on Wikipedia and which has essentially no bearing on the game, it’s a basic side-scrolling PvP fencing game that takes about ten seconds to learn; I would describe both the controls and the graphics as somewhere between Galaga and ExciteBike in terms of complexity. I won’t ruin the game by trying to describe it, because it will sound lame, and it is AWESOME. Just get it from Steam, or come play it with me, because I will never ever ever get tired of this game. It is also surprisingly good as a spectator sport at parties – if you ever wanted a crowd of people cheering as you throw your pixelated foil at your opponent and cover the ground in cartoon blood, this is your chance.
Spaceteam: Would you like to pilot a spaceship? Do you enjoy yelling at your friends? If so, download Spaceteam to your smartphone immediately. You and a few pals form a team connected via the magic of the interwebs to co-pilot a spaceship, and all you have to do is follow the instructions and not crash. Sounds easy? Guess what – it turns out that neither you nor your friends are very good at following instructions. Each of you has a console crowded with random nonsense dials and buttons, some of which periodically break off, as commands scroll across your screen – some of which are for your console, some of which are not, and some of which need to be executed simultaneously. You frantically shout out commands to your teammates while trying to listen for your commands and also repair your constantly breaking panel. In addition to being a lot of fun and full of goofy little tidbits, it’s a great way to get seated at restaurants more quickly! The developer is running a Kickstarter campaign to support his next couple of projects (he’s posted a thoughtful video on everything he thinks is broken about mobile game development funding, if you’re into game dev politics), so if you don’t mind trying to figure out the conversion between Canadian and US dollars, check it out before it closes on July 6.
Thomas Was Alone: This is, hands-down, the most thoughtful and moving game ever created about the deep inner life of squares. And I mean literally quadrilaterals – like, colorful shapes with four 90 degree angles – not some euphemism for nerds. It’s a puzzle game in which you control rectangles of various sizes, each of which have different ways of moving and interacting with the world which must be used collaboratively to complete each level. There is a rich and surprisingly touching story overlaid on the puzzle game via voiceover. The premise is that each shape represents an artificial intelligence accidentally generated in a computer system; the storyline follows their growing awareness and sense of self as they explore the world and develop feelings about their own purpose and each other. I find a lot of games which are either a puzzle game with a half-assed story, or a great story with lame puzzles, but this one does both brilliantly. It’s available on several platforms, but I thought it was well suited to the tablet experience, so I recommend iOS if you have an iPad.