by BONZO, HSM Editor
Codename has gotten together with indie game studio ][ -- no, that's correct, Right Square Bracket Left Square Bracket, or RSBLSB for short -- to produce a wonderfully unique game.
The game is based on an early concept for the PlayStation Network exclusive DYAD. In case you haven't tried this game, by all means download the demo; it is worth checking out, and if you like crazy puzzle/strategy games with a fast-paced feel and some great electronic music, definitely give this a shot. DYAD is a game about scoring and scoring as big as you can, working off the Z axis (which means controlling depth). What I love about it is the reference to existentialism, and to quantum physics. DYAD puts you in the mind of a particle in the Large Hadron Collider, and as you travel through this tunnel you have to make snap decisions about which way to turn to consume other particles and hook others to get as much speed as possible; the combinations you develop increase your score exponentially.
The game is fast paced, it is abstract, and your motions affect the music and the visuals -- and good God, the visuals are stunning. Without making the cliche drug references, the game is a trip. Games like these are unique because they are endless; they aren't about one level to the next or mindless collecting of items, but rather just a meditative type of game play. You basically do better the more you just relax and not overthink it. This doesn't mean it plays itself, but it's a strategy based on reaction rather than forethought.
A Game About Bouncing is Codename working with ][ to bring it into Home. Working with Shawn McGrath, the game’s designer, they have developed what was an early concept for DYAD itself, but was translated into A Game About Bouncing — which has some similarities to DYAD, but is an animal all its own. In A Game About Bouncing, you aren’t traveling through a tunnel, but you actually guide the particle to bounce off other particles and score each time you destroy one. The more you destroy in a chain reaction the more you score.
There are two ways of doing this. You use mainly the analog sticks in directing your particle in a specific direction; long strand arms connect you to other particles, and the bigger they are the more influence they have. It’s almost like playing with planetary bodies and the physics of space. The bigger the particle the more attractive force it has, but you also have control by doing a quick sprint in a single direction. When colliding with some particles you sometimes release smaller particles which are attracted to your general direction; if you collide with these your particle is annihilated. You have about two lives to begin with, and the game is actually very challenging.
Navigating around isn’t as simple as pointing in the direction you want to go; you are working against the attraction forces of the other particles surrounding you, and trying to avoid being hit by the rogue particles you inevitably release. It’s not just the big particles which affect your direction; if there is a cluster of small particles, they tend to work in tandem, and their collective attractive force becomes even more difficult to move against. Heading directly towards a smaller particle isn’t so simple as to let its attractive force pull you towards it either; other particles in the surrounding area are pulling you back as well. So maneuverability is difficult, and that adds to the challenge. You only pick up any real speed boost when you bounce from particles.
The most difficult thing is getting a continuous chain, and scoring big numbers. This being a Home game, it naturally has to include rewards. You can argue if games need to have rewards or not, but I think after four years the majority of the Home community wants rewards in games. So don’t panic: this game has rewards. There’s also a very cool avatar costume with joints represented by particles, similar to the ones you encounter in the game, and the body outlines represented by the trails from attractions between the particles. A pair of specs with animation from the game, and a cowboy hat similar to the one Shawn McGrath favors are also up for grabs.
This is a cabinet game, and the general rule in Home is that most cabinet games offer owner-only rewards. Clusterpuck didn’t have that restriction, but that may have affected how many people actually bought the game. You can’t fault developers for trying to make their money back, or make a little return as well. Visitors can play the game, but only the owners earn rewards from it. But let’s be fair: the game is also less than three dollars, and for a game with this much replay value it isn’t too much to ask. The appeal of puzzlers like these is that the only end in sight is the score you want to beat. These are the type of games you can put down and pick up again some time later, and it would be just as fun.
These types of games are also not for everyone. Some gamers like having a beginning and a definitive end, and a goal to shoot for. You can either see the scoreboard as a goal or the rewards as a goal, but there is no princess at the end of this castle to say you have reached the end and you have completed the game. This is also what makes these games replayable, because once you complete the goal in those games the journey isn’t one you always wish to return to. The timeless, endless puzzle where you yourself are the challenger — or another player’s score is there to beat — is when it becomes a real casual game designed to just entertain and challenge without demanding too much of you.