As described in its
official website, Baba Is You is a puzzle game where the rules players
have to follow are present as physical objects in the game world.
Baba Is You mainly has two kinds of objects which are text object and real object. The text can be a name, a logic word or a property word. The rules in the game are formalised using three texts. For example, in the sentence BABA IS YOU, [BABA] is a name text which refers to the main character, [IS] is a logic word which means having the property, and [YOU] means the referenced object has the property “controlled by player”. A rule can also be stated as “something is something” or “something has something”.
The winning condition:
The winning condition, of
course, is also stated using text objects in the game. Basically, we need to
let the place where exists the object, which has the property YOU, also
exists an object, which has the property WIN, i.e., YOU IS WIN.
What I’m doing and my
As a player, I just randomly try different combination of words in the beginning stages. Those tutorial stages are quite friendly. I not only can clear the stage with a limited number of attempts but also get the basic ideas of the game. In the following stages, the difficulty of the game increase quite smoothly. The following stages continually introduce new logic and property words which makes the gameplay very interesting.
Mechanics : The game is a 2D single-player game with dynamic rules. The rules are determined by how the words objects are arranged.
Story: The game doesn’t really have a story.
Aesthetics: The graphics and music are quite comfortable and dreamlike.
Technology: The basic rules are from Sokoban, but the dynamic rule in the game is very creative.
Essential Experience: The players get pleasure by
solving the puzzles.
Surprise, fun: There is a large number of possible
combination of words which enables players to have many possible rules. There
are a lot of them surprising and fun.
Curiosity: This game inspires players to discover new
Problem Solving: This is a puzzle game.
Holographic Design: All the elements of the game are consistent.
Unification Theme: Every thing in the game reinforce
the theme – solve the puzzle by manipulate the rules.
Dead Cells is a roguelike, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer, allowing you to explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle… assuming you’re able to fight your way past its keepers. To beat the game you’ll have to master 2D souls-like combat with the ever present threat of permadeath looming. No checkpoints. Kill, die, learn, repeat.
Dead Cells’ core mechanics are simple, move around the level and kill enemies, while dodging or parrying enemy attacks. The diversity of level layouts, environmental hazards, enemy types and equipment combinations make full use of the core mechanics to create a large variety of challenges and situations for the player to overcome.
At its core, Dead Cells is a rogue-like. Players are expected to be defeated often, each time starting anew, but with more knowledge of the game and access to persistent upgrades that helps the player progress further through the game. At every corner lurks a new mechanic for the player to master, the game never feels dull.
The story in Dead Cells is rather light, the player plays as the Beheaded, whose goal is to travel through the levels to hunt the King. The player is not given any prologue or direction at the beginning of the game. Pieces of story and lore are drip fed to the player as they progress through the game, via short cutscenes from interacting with points of interests, or when the player defeats a major boss.
The game features grim 2D pixel art graphics and grungy level and enemy design that accurately signals to the user: this game won’t be sunshine and rainbows.
While this game is available on both PC and consoles, it is clear that the game is meant to be played with a controller.
Lens of Problem Solving:
A key component of performing well in the game is designing the right build (combination of equipment and skills). Newer players will often find their runs ending very soon due to a lack of damage output or survivability. Seeking out equipment and selecting skills that synergise with each other is a key problem that players will need to solve in order to beat the game, especially at higher difficulties. This game demonstrates good game design, by balancing the skills and equipment such that there are many viable builds. This encourages players who beat the game using a specific build to try out different builds, which lead to refreshing new experiences.
The Lens of Fun:
The core gameplay loop is simple – traverse each level and kill enemies along the way. Killing enemies is not a simple activity of mashing buttons, certain enemies have a special attack to watch out for and the player must dodge or parry at the right time to avoid taking damage. The controls were very well polished, which is essential for an action platformer title. The graphical and aural feedback were well polished as well, the enemies would explode with a satisfying sound when killed, and send bits of enemies flying across the floor. Important gameplay events such as boss fights and leveling up were accompanied with sound effects that gave the player a feeling of strength.
The Lens of Surprise:
The game employs a procedural level generation technique that randomizes the layout of the levels each time. No two runs will be the same. Players will be blessed with good RNG in some runs and encounter tough levels in other runs.
The Lens of Curiosity:
The game has a minor story component, provided as points of interest scattered across the levels. Interacting with them rewards the player with interesting lore and tidbits about the world they are in. However, the story/lore is not very compelling and almost feels as if it were added as an afterthought and does not contribute very much to the appeal of the game.
Fortunately, the game is still able to intrigue the player’s curiosity. The game features a non-linear level progression, allowing players to explore different biomes on the way to the final boss. The different biomes feature different enemy types as well as a variety of environmental hazards. Furthermore, the game features a large variety of equipment, categorized into melee and ranged weapons, shields, traps, turrets, grenades and powers. Each piece of equipment has a unique effect that synergizes well with certain builds. The player starts out with only the most basic of equipment unlocked. The others are unlocked through a variety of means, including exploration of the game (think secret areas), feats/challenges, killing bosses, random drops etc. Personally, I found this to be the best quality of the game. During my first dozen or so runs, I would experiment with different combinations of equipment, and be excited to test out a newly unlocked equipment.
The Lens of Endogenous Value:
The pickups in the game all provide endogenous value – gold is used to purchase or upgrade equipment, cells are used to unlock new equipment and enhance drop rates of better equipment. Equipment drops are always a welcome sight, as they are scaled to the level and are usually superior to the equipment from a previous level. It is rare that a player will find collecting items to be pointless or a waste of time.
Songbird Symphony is a 2D platformer with a rhythmic twist. Follow an orphaned chick, “Birb”, in his heart-warming journey of discovery, as he sets off to find his true origins. Follow this cheerful little bouncing bird who revels in singing, and guide him through this magical journey of stunning pixel art and gorgeous animation that shapes itself to your musical interactions!Chirp to activate platforms, and sing to the residents of the forest, learning new notes to aid you in captivating rhythm battles against the creatures of this sprawling, enchanting world.
One might say the biggest draw of this game is its aesthetics. Its beautiful, colorful and cute pixel graphics with adorable characters draw many players in to try the game.
Not only are the visual aesthetics excellent, the game also comes with its own original soundtrack, handcrafted to go hand in hand with the pixel art. The superimposed lyrics are rather meaningful and helps blend the soundtrack into the story.
Songbird Symphony has a heartwarming story which definitely engages the audience’s mood in one way or another.
Birb travels through the forest, exploring and learning new notes from other birds to help him in his quest to find his parents.
While exploring in the magical world of Songbird Symphony, we come across platforming puzzles that we have to solve to progress further. The player also engages in rhythm battles with other birds to either learn new notes or gain progress in their quest.
Songbird Symphony is a platformer with no death but instead focuses on adventure and solving not-so-hard puzzles. Even the rhythmic element was designed specifically to not have a lose condition.
Songbird symphony is developed in Unity, is very lightweight and has been released on multiple platforms.
Lens #81: The Lens of Character Transformation
Starts of as a weak little chick thinking he is a peacock but just different
Finds out that Uncle Pea, the peacock, is not actually his parent and becomes extremely emotional
Figures out that he is a songbird
Becomes empowered by his mother after knowing what had happened to his mother which caused him to be initially abandoned
Begins as a mentor to birb
Turns out to be the antagonist which wants all songbirds dead
Is the initial obstacle in Birb’s quest to help Owl
Turns out to be helping Birb’s mother in attempting to stop Owl’s plans
Lens #68: The Lens of the Hero’s Journey
Birb’s story is certainly one of a Hero’s journey. Starting as an outcast from the peacocks, he journeys through the magical world and slowly figures out his origins, helping other birds along the way. Eventually, he rises up to take out the big bad Owl who caused his initial plight.
Lens #48: The Lens of Accessibility
The game was designed to have accessibility in mind. Firstly, all the rhythmic elements in the game do not have a fail state, allowing the player to not frustrate over not being able to ace a level in order to progress. Secondly, all platforming puzzle elements are of increasing difficulty where a puzzle always builds upon previous knowledge. Lastly, the puzzles are designed not to be difficult as to encourage the player to focus on the story and adventure part of the story.
Lens #49: The Lens of Visible Progress
The player gains more notes as they progress through the game. These notes also increases the difficulty of the rhythmic element of the game. Additionally, optional objects appear throughout the platforming elements of the game in the form of feathers. Players can see that their collection of feathers slowly increase while they progress through the game, each giving the player a small bit of lore into this magical world.
Lens #58: The Lens of Juiciness
The game employs juice as one of its main ways to maintain player engagement. For example, in some sections of the game, the player is required to sync out key presses with the rhythm. The game rewards the player with ripples on the screen and on some occasions, screen shake. This is only one of the myriad of ways the developers of this wonderful game have juiced up the game.
Baba Is You is a puzzle game that gives player the
ability to manipulate the rules of the puzzle itself to solve the puzzle. Baba
Is You also won the Excellence in Design and Best Student Game awards in the
Independent Games Festival 2018, and was nominated a finalist in two other
categories, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
Rules: puzzle games usually come with a set of rules to dictate what the players can do. In Baba Is You, rules of the level is presented as movable blocks, which the player can modify and manipulate to win the level. To explain the mechanics better, we have to look at one of the levels. In the first level, as seen in the photo above, you can see four distinct rules on the screen. By conventional puzzle game logic, you might be inclined to move right to push the rock to get to the flag. However, if you take a closer look at the borders of the level, you can see that there is actually more space for you to move about. The rules themselves are movable blocks which you can manipulate to form rules like ‘ROCK IS WIN’ or dismantle existing rules, thus changing the win condition itself.
Controls: The game has a very simplified control scheme, with four buttons for movement, one for undo and another for wait. The wait button might seem to be quite useless but it acts as a mechanic to solve future levels. It is very satisfying to undo movements when the player almost got the solution but took a slightly wrong path.
World design: The overworld is split up into different worlds, some of which are gated to ensure the player understands the more basic rules before trying levels with a higher difficulty. Each world has a theme and introduces new words like ‘NOT’ and ‘HAS’. Within each world, the first few levels act as a mini tutorial to help the player understand the new words.
I like the simple and cartoony graphics of the game, but I dislike the ‘wobble’ effect. Fortunately, the options allow me to toggle the effect. The music is calm and subtle, which goes great with the puzzling gameplay.
There is no story in this game, and that is fine because the unique selling point of the game is its mechanics.
The game has simple controls and is not graphically intensive. Available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
of Curiosity (Lens 6)
When playing the game, I always ask myself if an action is possible or a rule make sense. The game makes it easy to try out the different possibilities due to the compact size of every level and the ease of undoing undesirable actions.
The mixture of rules often lead to funny and unexpected outcomes. For example, if ‘KEKE HAS BABA’, ‘BABA HAS KEKE’ and ‘BABA AND KEKE IS YOU’, I become invincible because if Baba kills itself, Keke will appear as it ‘broke free’ from Baba and vice versa.
of Problem Solving (Lens 8)
Most levels contain fixed rules that cannot be changed, and they are strategically positioned at the corners of the level which the player cannot manipulate. This forces the player to work with a small set of rules sometimes to get the desired outcome.
There are some unspoken rules to the game, like if ‘ROCK IS NOT MOVE’ is already present, forming the rule ‘ROCK IS MOVE’ does not negate the effect of the first rule. This is shown visually by the crossing out of the two rules and the prompt to undo the move.
The game contains over 200 handcrafted levels, and the developer has stated on his blog that he is working on a future expansion for a level creator, which the players themselves can create new levels to challenge one another.
of Challenge (Lens 38)
Despite some mind-blowingly hard levels, the game is scaled well. The game always provide mini tutorials when it introduces new words to help the player understand the mechanics and slowly build up from there.
It is easy for new players to play the game. I often ask my friends for help when I get stuck on levels. Even though they might not have heard of the game before, after explaining the core mechanics of the game, most of them understood and were able to help me.
The Sims 4 is a single-player life simulation game. Players can customize their characters and houses. Players can also control the life of the characters and explore the worlds in the game. Game-play includes household development, careers, emotions, traits, aspirations and more.
Lens of Story Machine: The Sims was especially mentioned in the Lens of Story Machine, and for good reason. There was no fixed architect of story line which could be a negative for the game as it can get mundane playing the game. However, the sims being a long time game has a huge community of players who will come up with stories or challenges for other players to try. An example will be the rags to riches challenge where the player will have no money and residence for the character, wherein the player will have to figure a way to get their character rich. These player induced stories add more potential and fun for the players in the community.
However, The Sims 4 itself does not have a story arc. The
game does not impose conflict and character development is minimal. There is
little repercussions for actions in the game. For example, characters that have
a bad relationship can still chat amicably. The lack of a story makes the game
boring and “too easy”. This results in a heavy dependency on player induced
stories when playing.
The Sims 4 has a rich pool of mechanics incorporated into
the game as it was big scale life simulation game. For example, there are
friendship and romance level for relationships between characters, there are
career paths and aspiration with defined tasks to complete to get a pay rise or
a promotion. Other than these, there are many more interesting mechanics.
Lens of Essential Experience: The Sims 4 also brought mechanics for University into the game through the Discover University expansion pack. The game focused on the dormitory and roommates, where players are most excited about. They made attending classes a rabbit hole as these are the repetitive and mundane aspect of university that do not add much value to the experience. Focusing on the roommate aspect can also be extended to other areas of the game as the game can now have roommates not just in the University pack but also in other residences of the game world.
Lens of the Toy: Other than mechanic for story making, there are also different ways the sims can be played with: Character creation and house building. As The Sims 4 provide a well-defined mechanism for character creation, many players spend their game-play on making their characters. Challenges like creating characters to suit a color series or to create a character similar to a celebrity spun from these mechanisms. Similarly, for building lots, the players can not only build residential lots but also public lots. With the addition of the latest Tiny Living stuff pack, many players tried to challenge building a small lot.
The visuals of The Sims 4 is hugely made up of the
characters and builds in game. In every released expansion packs, the developer
team spent a great effort in creating new styles of clothes, hair, accessories
for characters; and furniture, wallpapers for builds. They also tried to
express diversity by adding different skin tones and religious clothing like
hijabs. As with story and mechanics, the Sims community also created custom character
and build content for the aesthetics of the game, some with a different art
style. The art style of The Sims 4 is a huge improvement from its 3
predecessors. However, some players find the art style too cartoonish and
prefer custom contents with more textures for more realism.
Lens of Imagination: The Sims 4 has its own made up language that players call “Simlish”. Whenever the characters communicate, they speak gibberish and have dramatic expressions and movement. This leaves the players space to imagine the conversation the characters are having. In a lot of Let’s play videos, the players make up the conversation themselves from the characters’ body language. However, some Simlish phrases appear often that players can guess the meaning, making the game more immersive.
Having so much content, The Sims 4 will have to consider how to allow the game to run on different hardware. The Sims 4 releases expansion packs with different content, users buy the content they are interested in. This keeps the game-play and content of each player simple and efficient enough to meet their needs; also keeping the game profitable. The pre-built characters and builds are also kept as simple as possible to ensure smooth run of the game for more hardware.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the latest videogame of the Zelda series. Released in 2017 for the Wii U and Nintendo Switch, this game introduces an open world action-adventure game which lets the player decide their own paths to achieve different goals, reach different places or just explore the game’s world.
Mechanics: Breath of the Wild is an open world game which lets you go wherever you want in the map. The mechanics are taught at the beginning of the game and they are:
Exploration and reaching different locations.
Obtaining equipment such as weapons, food, clothing, special abilities.
These are done by the player’s abilities: climbing, running, swimming and paragliding all limited by stamina. Also, attacking, which is enhanced by the weapons you carry and cooking, which increases your health.
Story: This game is a post-apocalyptic game that happens 100 years after a calamity occured. This story is told at the beginning but elements that help you uncover more about this story are the ruins present in the landscape, finding places where you obtain some memories back and talking to NPCs who tell you more about the past and life in the present. The game has a lot of places, so you always find yourself searching for clues about the past.
Aesthetics: Ruins and abandoned places add to the post-apocalyptic story of the game and overall drive to explore of the game. Also nature and landmarks make the player explore and find places. Sound design includes for example only some piano notes that add to the feeling of not many people being present around you and add up to the drive of discovering unknown places or just admiring the landscape.
Technology: The portability of the Nintendo Switch lets you play the game wherever you want, therefore if you have not that much free time you can just continue exploring or walking without any compromise. Also some puzzles require tilt control offered by the Switch. Other features include vibration and sounds which increase the feedback to the user when he is attacked.
Lens of Time
First of all, Breath of the Wild features a clock and a weather indicator on its main game play screen or Graphical User Interface. In my case, sometimes I check the time and weather to know what type of things to equip for a certain weather, decide parting times for a mission, wait until the sun sets to accomplish a sun light related mission or just see a nice view.
The game itself and almost all of its missions are not restricted by time, even the main storyline can be accomplished in less than 24 hours. In addition, if you get bored from a mission you can just change it and head towards a different direction in the map. This lets the player feel that they always have something to do in this open world game and it having no time restrictions creates a feeling of freedom in the player.
Furthermore, the passing of time and changing in weather in game changes its dynamics. For example, on cold weather you lose more life if you are not wearing warm clothes, or different enemies appear at night time. This lets the player experience the game differently at exactly the same locations depending on the time.
Lens of Goals
Since the beginning of the game, you are given the main mission to “Destroy Ganon” and this mission always appears at the top of your goals list. It’s easy for the player to understand that this is the ultimate goal of the game. But, there are also a lot of extra missions and quests that add more goals to the list, even the player gets to decide which goal to do next and focus on it.
Goals range from long term to short term goals. Sometimes when I get bored of a long term goal or don’t know what to do next, I just find myself changing it for another one, or just exploring the world and having more things to do and accomplish. This lets the player feel they always have something to accomplish even if they failed or get tired of their last mission, which lets them never get bored.
The game also features sightseeing towers that let the player see the different geography and locations in the game. Moreover, the player is able to put map markers so that if they decide to visit or revisit one place they can just follow their markers. In other words, the game lets the player decide their own goals, that can be as simple as climbing a mountain or reaching and unknown location.
Lens of Atmosphere
Breath of the Wild is a post-apocalyptic game. It is set 100 years after a great Calamity happened and destroyed the major villages, landmarks and killed hundreds. Even if the game has beautiful cartoonish graphics, the landscape lets you know the places are not as they once used to be. The main example is the Hyrule Castle Town ruins that is completely destroyed. Therefore, the game has a post-apocalyptic atmosphere, in my case this made me feel sad as the player gets to know the main characters failed to protect the Kingdom and you can no longer see or experience the places as they once were.
A calming atmosphere is also created in the places were mostly nature is present. The world in Breath of the Wild feels alive, in the sense that many things resemble the real world. For example the movement of the grass, the wind, weather, water, the trees moving, there are animals and insects roaming around, even the sunsets are beautiful in game. In addition, sound design is important as most of the music is just separate piano notes and chords that just add up to the relaxing atmosphere. This made me feel as if I could just stop for a second and hear the sounds in the place I am exploring or watch the sunset from the top of a mountain and relax.
Lens of curiosity
In Breath of the Wild the player is always filled with curiosity, as that is what keeps the player on exploring. This is achieved through the placement of objects in the world. There are many distinct landmarks that are easily seen and that drag the player’s attention towards them, resulting in them wanting to explore and get to know what’s there. Also the maps don’t have a lot of information, but just seeing the drawings lets you wonder what could be found in those places.
In my case, the ruins placed throughout the game awaken my curiosity as I begin to question what they were. There are also ruins with different designs, which lets the player even sort them into different time periods. Another feature is that some of those ruins resemble places in past games; therefore, this lets the player imagine and wonder how this places came to be what they are now. This adds up to the feeling of wonder and exploration the game creates in its players.
Stardew Valley is an open-ended country-life Role Playing Game. Player starts with a few basic tools and has to farm, mine and fish to obtain more resources while helping to restore the old town. The player is also able to talk to NPCs and maintain a friendship with them by giving them gifts and in turn, receives items and other benefits.
the time, day of the week, date and season in top right-hand corner: different things occur at different times of the day and season
energy bar (and sometimes health bar) at the bottom right-hand corner: to monitor energy (and health) levels to decide what to do next
Elemental Tetrad 1 – Story:
Player may feel a sense of nostalgia or some kind of emotional attachment to the setting of the game as the plot of land is passed down from the player’s father where he used to live before moving to the city. The game maintains this “relationship” by the father continuing to send money to the player in the farm, and one of the NPCs sometimes mention the player’s father in his dialogue.
Different NPCs also have their own storylines, personalities and circumstances which adds to the depth of the game, makes the game more interesting as the player learns more about the stories of the different characters
Elemental Tetrad 2 – Mechanics:
Inventory management: player starts with only 12 slots in inventory, so the number of items the player can carry at any one time is very limited, forces the player to walk home to drop off stuff when player’s inventory is full
Goals: goals are set by the player himself and there are various ways the player can play the game thus allowing for many many hours of re-playable content
complete “optional” main quests in the game
set own arbitrary goals
Time and energy management: each day has a limited period of time from 6am to 2am and player only has a limited amount of energy so time and energy is precious and player can only do so much in one day. Also, the player has to go to bed by 12am, otherwise there could be consequences (lose gold, wake up with less energy the next day thus hindering the player’s progress).
Other examples include health, weather, seasons
Elemental Tetrad 3 – Aesthetics:
Game is very aesthetically pleasing. Made with pixel art and graphics look simple but detailed, with wide range of colours. When seasons pass, the scene/settings also change such as different coloured leaves.
Also very simple UI
Music is also quite well-done. Usually calming, relaxing and cheerful but can change when player is at different areas (at the town vs at the mines). There is also different soundtracks for different events that happen in the game.
Elemental Tetrad 4 – Technology:
Not computationally or graphically intensive, able to play on various devices (PC/mac, console, mobile)
Lens 1: Essential Experience
Player can choose to do anything from a wide range of activities, endless gameplay
Limited time and energy forces players to think about what to do to conserve energy and make full use of the time and energy
“Social” (even in singleplayer) – NPCs are almost like real players as they move around the map, can be interacted with and have various different personalities, makes you feel connected to the characters and sympathise with them
Complete collections to rebuild the town to its former glory, instills a sense of achievement
Lens 2: The Lens of Surprise
Though some may find the lack of a tutorial to be a disadvantage of the game, I find that it adds on to the fun of it because sometimes the player can discover new areas, items as well as new ways of doing things, all on their own.
This encourages players to be curious and explore the game by themselves
Also encourages players to share tips and tricks with one another (via forums or YouTube videos), builds the community
Lens 39: The Lens of Time
Time is often of the essence in the game, having only a set and limited amount of time in each game day that feels short yet it is still long enough to complete a substantial number of activities and allows the user to feel accomplished. It still leaves the player wanting for more.
The current day and date that the player is in also affects certain aspects of the game such as farming and giving gifts.
If player plants the crops a day too late, it may result in one less harvest for those crops and player loses out on the opportunity to make more money
Players can take advantage of NPCs’ birthdays to give them gifts to gain many more friendship points than if gifted on a regular day, allowing player to more quickly max out the friendship points with NPCs
Lens 46: The Lens of Economy
In singleplayer, the player can buy and sell items to NPCs. Main source of income for players is from selling harvest and animal products.
As money is limited, players have to make mindful and meaningful decisions about buying items with the money that they have earned, such as:
buying seeds for the most profitable crops
buying seeds for less profitable crops but for other benefits
equipment and armour
farm buildings, more animals
Items that players buy can go towards making more money and making more progress in the game or for aesthetic purposes
Crops or most of the items that the player can sell also have secondary uses and thus sometimes it may not be wise to sell all of them away and have to think through what they should sell and how much of it
As the player progresses, he/she will earn money more easily but items such as equipment and farm buildings will also progressively become more expensive to purchase, maintaining the difficulty of the game
Slay the Spire is an action deck-building roguelike game in which you climb The Spire, traversing three acts with many unique enemies, bosses, and encounters. The levels are procedurally-generated and the gameplay is turn-based. Your actions are represented as cards, and you go about building a deck of cards to progress through the game.
The Elemental Tetrad: Aesthetics, Story, Mechanics, Technology
Slay the Spire is made very functionally, with the main focus being on the mechanics. The story is sparse, and technology adequate for being a 2D game. The aesthetics are very well done, through simple hand-painted design, the intent, function and purpose of each individual item in the game are conveyed smoothly. The mechanical nature of the game is incentivised making the experience thorough, strategically and careful. The design suits this purpose, and if there was an added focus on the other areas, it will detract from what makes the experience of playing Slay the Spire fun.
The lens of Moments
What I’ll argue is Slay the Spire’s greatest strength is providing the player with moments in the game where they feel like they “broke” the game. By building up your deck of cards, it’s possible for the cards you choose to synergize with other cards. For example, if you have a card the deals 1 damage, five times to an enemy. And you have another card that grants 2 strength to your character (Strength grants your character additional damage per attack). Now instead of dealing 5 damage, you will be dealing 15 damage, just with this simple combination. But if your entire deck is a web of interconnected synergies, you will overpower all the enemies in the game. This definitely provides a sense of accomplishment at how clever or powerful you are for figuring out how to get to this point. It’s what makes the game so rewarding.
The lens of Obstacle
But I’ll argue that the strength of Slay the Spire also entirely lies in the risk or obstacle involved in the game. Enemies you face as you progress higher and higher up the Spire get increasingly difficult. Without proper planning, Slay the Spire is a difficult game. The greediness of the player is also often the main fail state, as there are plenty of risk vs reward events implemented in the game, be that choosing a route to tougher enemies for better rewards or upgrading a card instead of healing.
obstacle the player will encounter is the randomness of the game. No two games are
the same, as levels are generated, enemies, card rewards, events are all
random. This makes it hard to plan any strategy from the start. Yet, both these
obstacles push the lens of Moments as they feel earned when they are achieved.
The lens of Transparency
This is an important lens in this game (The designers have said that the game almost failed without their new user interface implementation). All enemy intents are revealed to the player before they do their action. This further reinforces the tactical nature of the game as you can account for the enemies’ actions. Planning ahead of the enemy is what makes the gameplay loop of planning and execution so engaging.
The lens of Elegance
I believe that Slay the Spire is an excellently designed game. Each element feeds the other elements, making the experience cohesive and engaging. There are no superfluous elements, and the ones that exist are simple, yet complex due to the synergies with the other elements. Every card combination is balanced, yet still feels unexpected to the player. The risk/reward progression of the game is top-notch. Consequently, it’s clear why this game pushed the deck-building genre into new heights and will no doubt go as the classic.
The Gardens Between is an adventure-puzzle game that takes
players through a story about a pair of friends, Arina and Frendt, and their
precious moments spent together. At each level, we get to see a significant
memory from their past.
The gameplay is minimalistic, with simple controls. Players can only choose to move forwards and backwards in time and interact with certain items in the environment using the spacebar. Nonetheless, the puzzles have a certain level of difficulty in them and only get more difficult with each passing level.
Mechanics: As the game has very little controls, the mechanics behind it are simple and the developers have executed it well. Players only have one clearly defined goal, which is to clear each level by lighting up the gate. The only thing I got frustrated about was one level where we had to track which of the many cubes bouncing all over the map carried our lantern. As the camera cannot be moved by the player themselves, there are many times where the cubes are blocked by the environment and when they re-emerge, they have switched places. I later found out that if we pause at the right moment, we can just see which ones have switched just before they are out of view and predict their movement when they re-emerge. In hindsight, that might have been intentionally done by the developers to make the game more challenging and to encourage us to think of different ways to solve the level.
Story: The story in the game is like a puzzle in its
own right. It is pre-scripted but there is neither narration nor dialogue
between the two characters so players have to figure it out on their own. I,
personally, found it rather enjoyable to guess the plot with each passing
memory that the game presents us with.
Aesthetics: The game is visually stunning and won the 2018 IGF awards for Excellence in Visual Art because of that. I think the art style of the game inspires a feeling of wonder and delight to anyone that first lay their eyes on it. That adds to the effect of feeling like we are transported into a dream-like world every time we play it.
Technology: As the controls are simple and the game
is not too graphically demanding, it is highly accessible, available on all
major platforms and even on phones.
Lens #2: The Lens of Surprise: The game definitely has interesting surprises. As the player is given very little control over the characters themselves, a large part of the gameplay relies on pausing at the right time and changing the environment to proceed. The way one can change the environment varies every level and there is an element of surprise at every level. For example, in one of the levels, we had to power some lightbulbs. That particular level truly stumped me, I kept going back in time, and then forwards again just trying to see if I’ve missed something. In the end, I solved it accidentally by rewinding time, back to where the characters were trying to cross a bridge and wait there for a droplet of water to land between two open electricity pipes. I had not even thought that that droplet of water had any significance and all these puzzles really make me pay a lot more attention to the environment.
Lens #31: The Lens of Challenge: Like most puzzle
games, the game gets increasingly more challenging as one progresses. Keeping
in mind that the difficulty of a game is subjective, I think that the game is
quite balanced (it is not too difficult that it makes me want to give up and
search for the answer online and also not too easy that it makes me bored) and
I like the linearity of the difficulty progression. There are no dramatic
difficulty spikes, the levels build up in difficulty in a very gradual manner.
Lens #64: The Lens of Projection: The portrayal of
the characters is realistic; they emerge into the dream-like world full of
wonder and bewilderment which echoes the player’s feelings. They are fuelled by
curiosity and constantly fiddle with random objects that are on their path,
which is something that I feel players can relate to when they are thrust into
a world like that. However, as the story is pre-scripted and there is only one
way to solve every level, there is little players can actually do to manipulate
and change the outcomes so it feels like one is watching the story from an
outsider’s point of view. To add on, as the story is not immediately clear, it
keeps the player guessing what each level represents. Because of that, I find
it difficult to project my imaginations into the game.
Lens #77: The Lens of Character Traits: The characters in the game have personalities that are very distinct from each other. As there is no dialogue in the game, these personality traits are only shown through actions alone. When the characters move they do not always keep the same pace, the two characters get distracted by various things in the environment, they run when they are excited, they move much slower when they are walking over a precarious bridge, etc. all these make the characters feel more human. I particularly like how easy it is to tell their character traits like how Arina almost always leads the way but will often wait for Frendt when he gets distracted or too scared to move forward. It makes it easy to associate Ariana as the brave one, while Frendt as the curious one which making them more impressionable to me.
Game: Bravely Default Platform: Nintendo 3DS Genre: RPG
Bravely Default is a spiritual successor to classic Final Fantasy titles, being inspired by the former’s aesthetics and gameplay. The story is that of four, young heroes out to rekindle the dying crystals to save the world. Tiz, the main protagonist who loses his home village right as the game begins. Agnes, a priestess at the Wind Temple that was recently raided and destroyed. Edea, the daughter of the snow emperor who wants to dive into the rabbit hole of the empire she was raised in. And Ringabel, a mysterious man searching for clues to his past.
I followed this game since its original release in 2012, and I got to play it when in released in the United States two years. And I must admit, the wait was worth it. The version that released internationally made Bravely Default one of the most user-friendly games. While the gameplay is very reminiscent of classic turn-based JRPGs, there is a twist in its simplicity with the job classes and the Brave system. Below, I will go into the details.
Mechanics As someone who believed that job classes were pretty much perfected in Final Fantasy V for single-player JRPGs, I can gladly say that Bravely Default brought the job system into the modern age. Characters are able to select any job they want at any time they want. This gives each character in the party an advantage or disadvantage during any particular battle. While the turn-based battle system is relatively standard, as far as JRPGs go, the Brave system adds a satisfying aspect to a given battle. The Brave system adds a risk-reward to the mix. If you select Brave, you can attack more than once in a turn, but have to wait as many turns as they attacked. If you select Default, you can stack Brave Points to be used later.
Story Seeing as this is an RPG, I can only go into the story so much without getting into spoiler territory. It initially starts off like a classic RPG, wherein the heroes are in search for the crystals to save the world from its demise while trying to stop an evil empire. While yes, the initial plot is very basic, how the characters react both to the situations, their own group, and the others that inhabit the world is what carries the first half of the game. The main characters all meet up pretty early on and have fantastic chemistry that you can see in the frequent party chats. There is are a number of wild plot twists that I do not want to spoil here, as this is a game I feel needs to be explored.
Aesthetics All backgrounds are hand-drawn and painted, and they all look gorgeous. The characters and world map are 3D models, which look fine considering they are on the 3DS, but the backgrounds are beautiful. The aesthetics of the world vary depending on the town, having many anachronisms, but having an overall “middle ages” feel. My favorite areas are tied for the water town Florem and the sand town Ancheim. Not to mention that the orchestrated soundtrack is outstanding.
Technology This game did not break any boundaries or push any limits for the 3DS. But what it did do was use the 3D to have a parallax view of the gorgeous towns.
4) Surprise The game lures in fans of classic Final Fantasy and other JRPGs, but gives classic fans a surprise with the later twists in the plot, well-established characters and their interactions, and a gorgeous parallax world.
21) Flow The plot tends to flow very smoothly for the first half, with very clear goals communicated by the characters (save the crystal’s destruction, stop the empire, save the world). The “distractions” from the main plot usually tie in at one point or another, but they’re mainly there to expand the party, the world, or to gain jobs to enhance the gameplay.
40) Triangularity The Brave and Default aspects to the battle system offers the risk-reward of the game. The job classes also help to expand the gameplay. The challenges to get the classes are arguably tough to obtain a good 40% of the time.
63) Feedback The game has great user-friendly feedback and customization of gameplay. In terms of customization, you can speed up battles, turn off random encounters, and set your party to level 99 (max level). The feedback given during any particular point is also pretty good. There’s an on-screen map that shows where you are at any time, the characters will bring up where to go next, and even if you lose a battle, you know what to do the next time you go against them with a different strategy.
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