There was this thing in my art and literature textbooks that grouped artists together quite randomly and called them part of a movement. It didn’t matter if these guys never met, lived 100 years apart or spoke different languages. Very often the most famous person of the group wouldn’t meet the criteria that defined the generation. With time I came to understand that these labels were used to differentiate them from the rest of the junk.
Now I’m playing Radical from Beavertap Games and realise that its appearance, quick gaming style and initial difficulty are all part a particular movement. There are other games using the same aesthetic, sure, and although they are not copying each other, it’s like all those belong in the same app folder. They are members of the same game generation.
What’s interesting about the latest game of Mike Meade and Mike Gaughen is that you can see their evolution. Their previous Mikey games were level-based quick runners where memorising the level design was key to shave those seconds off. The strongest point is the level design, which makes you realise that everything you see is there for a purpose and allows you discover little surprises you overlooked replaying the same levels over and over. Mikey Shorts and Mikey Boots are unequivocally part of the MOS Speedrun and Rocketcat family. It’s not like that type of game is not good anymore — they definitely have more meat to them — but simpler games like Radical allow indie developers like Beavertap to take the pulse of today’s App Store shoppers minimising the risk of investing a lot of time in a new game concept that doesn’t tick with them.
OK, so who else is making these kind of games? You can see a similar evolution in other indie developers. Nimblebit (Pocket Frogs, Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes) is now experimenting with leaner creations such as their latest Golfinity and the upcoming Letterpad. Game sessions are definitely quicker and less grindy. Ditching their recognisable pixel art style in favour of bright colours and thin crisp lines warrants a place in this movement I’m trying to define.
There are more examples that come to mind. Kumobius’ Duet is an excellent representative of this trend, using a very narrow colour palette, high contrast and the type of difficulty that makes you tap the retry button over and over. The Australian studio previously worked on Timer Surfer and Bean’s Quest, and although the sequel Bean Dreams is letting down my theory, I will continue trying to make a point.
I have to return to 2012 to find what I think is the quintessential game of this generation: Super Hexagon. Terry Cavanagh ticks all the boxes here. Strong monochromatic palette, basic lines and shapes, simple to understand, mind-blowing difficulty, randomly generated levels and very very short game sessions. Thomas Janson’s Wave Wave, Santa Ragione’s Fotonica and Whitaker Trebella’s Pivvot all follow the same pattern.
Absurd Movement Rules
What’s the point of bringing this up? Because I need to find a justification to apply the absurd movement rules to mobile gaming. Come up with a definition that encapsulates a type of game that I enjoy and separate these from the stuff on the top grossing charts. And the worst example so far is the one the one I find most influential of all. I’m sorry. It’s Flappy Bird.
Despite all the criticism Dong Nguyen got at the peak of the Flappy Bird craze, we should recognise his influence in today’s mobile gaming scene. It’s like there’s a before and after Flappy Bird on the App Store. Now it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a game that is simple, based on one simple mechanic that you can replay and replay again. It’s always better if it looks decent, but appearance becomes something secondary when you are focusing on short gaming bursts.
Games don’t need to be overly complex because you are either going to play them for five minutes or change to another quick game during longer sessions if you get stuck. The entry price and IAP are also secondary — current display and video advertising in games may work well with sufficient amounts of players.
So there I say it. Games like Radical are the kind of stuff we need to see on the App Store. It’s not that I don’t enjoy complex games with a proper story, fantastic artwork and epic soundtracks — I love them. It’s that for the first time I see a model that could confront face to face the awful games with timers and other mind tricks that dominate the top grossing charts.