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Destructivator: Ramblings screenshot

Destructivator

Game released: 2009

Developer: Pug Fugly Games

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I recently found myself sitting in the Frankfurt airport, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a miniature plane to take me to Slovenia to visit my parents-in-law. My one-year teaching contract in Korea has expired, and my wife and I have a two-week break before next year’s contract kicks in, ergo the trip. I’m typing this from the comfort of my parents-in-law’s home in Ljubljana, having already been here a week, relaxing and taking in the sites, but my story takes place in the Frankfurt airport… twiddling thumbs. So I’m sitting there feeling very sorry for myself—being six-foot-seven, and all, and already having had to endure eleven hours of economy class torture—mind wandering, cold blue lights slowly sucking the life from my bones.

With no direct imperative from my mind, my hand slips into my backpack and finds my laptop; out it comes. Zip zip, open click, the hum of fans, the Windows chime. I am reminded of another mind-numbing airport wait from several months ago—one that felt like death, in my state of depression at the time—and suddenly I know what I must do: the same thing I did then: Destructivate.

Alt-Space for Launchy, and I type the title in; nothing; the launcher must be acting up. Start menu then; searching.

But the place where Destructivator should be is blank, is not there at all. I remember a hard drive formatting… of course. And suddenly I’m almost depressed again, because I realize that Destructivator is not simply the game I played last time I was numb, waiting at a gate. Rather, it is the game that I must play at every airport gate, always. Like the airport, the world of Destructivator is cold blue steel; humanity’s ability to control the elements, inverted; modernism at its peak, above its peak, below its peak; Kurtz; despair. Read more »

Canabalt: A One Button Miracle screenshot

Canabalt

Game released: 2009

Developer: Adam Atomic

Production: Independent

Platforms: Browser, iPhone

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Canabalt is pure genius, and possibly the best Flash game I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. It is a true single button game, in that you use a single button to play, period: there are a lot of “arrow keys + one button” games out there, but this isn’t one of them. You control a protagonist in an urban dystopia who is attempting to make “a daring escape.” From what we are not told, but if you observe the backdrop closely you can make an educated guess or two. The running happens without your input: all you need do is press “x” to jump from one building to another: offices to rooftop, rooftop to crane.

This game is a beautiful thing to watch, and my single complaint for its designers is the lack of a recording/replay option. The first thing you’ll notice here is the atmosphere: with a few shades of gray and some delicate pixel work Adam Atomic and Danny B have created the Blade Runner of Flash games. Academia has conditioned me to feel dirty for comparing a canon film to something made in Flash, but I’m not going to back down: considering its scope, context, and medium, Canabalt does what Blade Runner did for its own context and medium. It is a stark, atmospheric, posthuman platformer. Read more »

Spelunky screenshot

Spelunky

Game released: 2009

Developer: Derek Yu

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Official Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Who doesn’t dream of donning a fedora and leather jacket, grabbing a 10-foot, 12-plait bullwhip, and diving into the nearest cave in search of treasure, danger, and adventure? Who doesn’t want to look like an Average Joe on the outside, but secretly be a professor of archeology on the inside, and even more secretly be a globetrotting daredevil?

There are a bunch of games out there that let you do the whip-wielding archeologist thing, but most of them aren’t that great. Two very good ones though, are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, released by LucasArts in 1992, and Spelunky, released by Derek Yu seventeen years later (that’s 2009, for the mathematically challenged).

The fascinating thing about these two games is that they are quite similar in terms of theme and mood: both do a fantastic job of imparting that sense of earth-incrusted derring-do – both make me feel like an armchair Indiana Jones—and yet the mechanics that make the games tick are very, very different. Fate of Atlantis is a classic point-and-click adventure game, filled with puzzles and featuring a well-developed but mostly linear plot; Spelunky, by contrast, is a an action-platformer-roguelike with procedural level generation, whose player-created story arcs are less defined, and never go the same way twice.

As I recently finished playing through Fate of Atlantis for the second time, after fourteen years away, I was struck that these games, with their similar themes yet different mechanics, present a great opportunity to compare and contrast two breeds of interactive experience… [This game was reviewed in conjunction with Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. To see the full comparative review click here.]

Life in a Bottle screenshot

Passage

Game released: 2007

Developer: Jason Rohrer

Production: Independent

Platforms: Linux, Mac OS X, Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: TIGdb
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Passage is a very short art game about life and death and the passage of time. It is intended to be played before you read anything about it, so I would highly recommend that you download and play the game if you have not yet done so. It will take you about five minutes, and is very much worth the time.

Since Rohrer summarizes the game well, I won’t waste time rephrasing:

Passage represents life’s challenges with a maze. The screen geometry only allows you to view a narrow slice of this maze at any given moment. You can see quite a distance out in front of you (and, later in life, behind you), but you can’t see anything to the north or south. You may see a reward up ahead but not be able to see a clear path to it. In fact, after a bit of exploration, you may discover that a seemingly nearby reward is in fact unreachable.

Approaching the Game

Like most art games, Passage has met with a variety of reactions. Because it has become particularly famous, those reactions have been especially strong. Many people have found the game to be quite profound, while many others have turned up their noses at Rohrer and this effort, claiming it is pretentious at best, and a piece of dog poo at worst (well, actually, that’s not the worst). Read more »

Seven Minutes of Confusion screenshot

Seven Minutes

Game released: 2009

Developer: Virtanen Games

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: TIGdb
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Seven Minutes is a very short existential platformer. Part of the goodness of the game comes from not knowing anything about it before you play, so if you haven’t tried it yet I’d recommend downloading it first, and reading this review after; the game, true to its title, will take you exactly seven minutes to play.

All games are metaphorical to some extent, but Seven Minutes is blatantly so, representing you, who are specifically said to be human, as a small black square (with eyes) on the screen. This square presumably represents your mind or spirit, during your last seven minutes of life. You touch a flame against the warnings of what appears to be a higher spiritual being represented in the form of a talking head, and you then have seven minutes to explore the game world however you choose; a world which is not generally as it appears. The talking head follows you throughout, telling you constantly to turn back. Read more »

These Simple Delights screenshot

When Pigs Fly

Game released: 2009

Developer: Anna Anthropy

Production: Independent

Platforms: Browser

Price: FREE

Get it from: Newgrounds
Jordan Magnuson's picture

When Pigs Fly is a devilishly hard little flash platformer of 50 screens. A poor little pink pig has fallen into a cavern while on her morning stroll, and to escape she “wills herself to grow a pair of big, feathery wings.” But can she learn to fly? That’s where you come in: the wings are fragile, and the barest graze of a stalactite can mean disaster.

WPF is a perfect example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts. It has a charm and likeability factor that just can’t be explained by analyzing the individual pieces that make it up. Ultimately, it is the handcrafted nature of the thing that won it over to my heart: the graphics aren’t stunning, but they are beautifully hand-rendered in retro style; the sound and music have a similar appeal, and you can feel Anthropy’s thoughtful hand on the levels. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the game is that overall it is a joyous experience, despite the fact that it is wretchedly hard! Games 100 times the scope of this little beauty could learn a lot from it.

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