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Innovative Casual Game Design: A Year in Review


June 19, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next
 

Visual Narrative Trend

This is another strong trend in casual games. New themes and more complex puzzles than last year, but they are still easy to play. There is less innovation than in puzzle games, but nevertheless there are great new games worth checking out.

Juan: My pick is the Bowja the Ninja series. It's a series of games (in its third iteration by now) created by Pencilkids. In them you command Bowja -- the stealth ninja who is part James Bond, part 8-year-old kid, and part ninja master.

The game mechanic is based on the concept of exploring the screen with your mouse to find hot spots, and clever puzzles that you have to solve. The theme is great and it will be particularly appealing for all of those who have grown up with Cold War-era movies and books. Best of all the games contain almost no text at all so they are globally accessible.

Nick: This is something of a legacy pick, but my choice for visual narrative is Grow Nano vol.3, insofar as it represents the entire Grow series. The Grow series is developed by Eyemaze, and Nano vol. 3 is the 2008 entry in the series.

Grow games are essentially logic puzzles. The player is presented with a number of objects that can be dropped into the field of play one at a time, and the objects are dropped in the right order, the player wins. Grow games are about the trial and error play of experimenting with different arrangements and trying to max out the development of each one.

What moves the Grow games beyond simple logic puzzle is the way that the states of development are shown through narrative. Each object added to the playfield advances the narrative in unpredictable ways.

In Grow Nano vol. 3, for example, each object added can increase the main characters health: by growing into a bed, generating a spouse and then family, and evolving through several kinds of medicine. So while the game necessitates repeat play, it remains fun to keep experimenting since each new step is a narrative reward, regardless of whether the step is successful or not.

There are many different variants in the Grow series, from Grow RPG to Grow Tower, but all of them share this cute style and non-verbal narrative that make a very basic logic puzzle a heartwarming play experience.

Other games worth checking out are:

  • Passage: This game by Jason Rohrer is a major step forward in the games-as-art movement. One of the most moving 5-minute-or-less experiences I've ever seen.
  • Majesty of Colors: An interesting modern take on the old choose-your-own adventure structure by Gregory Weir. I think this game and others like it point to a new direction in interactive narrative.
  • You Have to Burn the Rope: Kian Bashiri's wonderful commentary on the difficulty of modern games, and recipient of the unofficial Best Original Song in Casual Games 2008.

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