Thursday, June 7, 2012

#3: Blocks That Matter and Blueberry Garden - Indie-pendence Day

It's week number three, which means that I've got to choose another game to talk about.

The problem is that I've played several new games in the last week, but completed none of them. So I'm going to choose the two indie games and bundle them together.

I'm normally the type to see a game through to the end before switching. However, I've heard it said more than once by "real game reviewers" that if a game isn't fun within the first few hours, then it's not a fun game. The idea behind it is that a game shouldn't make you do anything that feels like work first in order to have fun. I personally agree with the stance, and not just because it is convenient for me to do so at this particular time.

So first up, we've got Blocks That Matter. I think I got this as part of a Humble Indie Bundle at some point (by the way, is currently running their fifth bundle, and by far their best one yet. Pay what you want, it goes to charity, get a bunch of good games. Be cool like me and do it).

The basic premise is that you're a little robot called a "tetrobot" that looks like a box with a drill for a face. This is a very functional face to have in a game about drilling into blocks and repositioning them around the level, so I guess this robot lucked out.

The gameplay consists of ramming your face into blocks with various properties around the level. When you destroy a block, you keep it to re-use later. You can only place blocks in groups of four, so basically any of the Tetris shapes.

If you screw up, it's all-too-possible to become stuck and required to start the level over. This is the main problem I had with Blocks That Matter: I like puzzles, but I do not like being forced to repeat content in any game.

A simple "Undo" button for placing blocks, or a "rewind" button, would have been far more interesting and less frustrating for when you inevitably place your blocks incorrectly.

Think about it: in real life, if you're doing a jigsaw puzzle and try to fit a piece in that is simply not the correct shape, your jigsaw puzzle does not force you to start over. You will not be locked out from using that piece later in the correct location after you realize your mistake. There is no requirement that you disassemble your entire puzzle and start at step 1 again.

Ow, my grammar.

A simple press of a button opens up a grid overlay to place your reclaimed blocks on the stage (in touching groups of four, of course). You can delete horizontal rows of 8 or more, which is what I'm planning on doing here.

I thought that actually playing the game was fun and relatively rewarding, but I would rather not spend large chunks of my free time running through the same hoops in a level to return to the tricky part.

The obvious solution to my problem and what most people in the gaming community would probably suggest is to "stop sucking". Unfortunately, if a puzzle game were easy enough that the player never got stuck, then it wouldn't really have any purpose to begin with, now would it? Not a puzzling concept.

Moving on to Blueberry Garden . . .

If this image piques your curiosity, I'd look into this game. If you gagged a little bit when you saw the art style, then you should probably not look into this game.

I'm kind of at a loss for words for how to describe Blueberry Garden. It pushes the boundaries of what a game actually is, and what kind of experiences you can create for the player.

It's surreal, in a good way.

But what really struck me is that it's unbelievably relaxing.

Here's how it goes: you start a new game. You're a strange white bird-human-coat hybrid, with the ability to start gliding left or right despite your apparent lack of wings. You quickly realize you can pick up objects, such as fruit, and eat them.

You eventually find random giant real-life objects in the environment (strangely reminiscent of Pikmin), and by standing near them, the screen vibrates a bit and then teleports you and the item back to your door / home base. These items automatically stack on top of eachother, giving you higher and higher vantage points from which to glide around the world.

Over time, you figure out that the various fruits have properties when eaten, such as letting you breathe underwater, or shifting the terrain around. You can bring them back to your "base" and they will automatically become trees that generate more of that fruit.

That die (singular of dice, for those who were unaware) is an example of an object that you stack. As far as this colored-pencil art goes, at first I was a bit off-put, but it grew on me very quickly. It has a coloring-book kind of charm.

Throughout this, wonderfully relaxing piano music plays.

What is truly peculiar about this game is that you are given no instructions and no explanation, which creates a genuine desire to explore and find answers. By the time you figure out what exactly you need to do and why, you forgot that you were even looking for an objective. You might be even more surprised when you realize you were enjoying a game that had no goal aside from eating fruit and stacking random objects. It actually turns out that it is not an easy game to win, and I do not know what happens if you do.

I really enjoyed this game, but I can't put my finger exactly on why. I suppose it gives you a sense of childish wonder that many games never seem to achieve. It's the kind of experience that can't really be found anywhere else, and if you are open to trying a game that could be described as "experimental" then this is a good place to start.

Here is a one minute youtube video that can show what I've struggled to describe (including that piano).

And now, I'm going to plug the Humble Bundle V again real quick: Bastion alone is worth the "beat the average price"; when you throw in incredible titles like Amnesia and Super Meat Boy, you'd be silly not to splurge.

That's it for this week. I'll be back again next Wednesday (hopefully) with another entry.