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Flash Roundup: Platformers

June 16th, 2008 by

Vital Stats:
Shift

Genre: Platformer
Players: 1
Online: Flash Game

Developer: Armor Games
Publisher: Armor Games
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Release Date: 2008

Platforms

  • Internet

Vital Stats:
Chronotron

Genre: Platformer
Players: 1
Online: Flash Game

Developer: Scarybug Games
Publisher: Kongregate Games
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Release Date: 2008

Platforms

  • Internet

Vital Stats:
You Have To Burn The Rope

Genre: Platformer
Players: 1
Online: Flash Game

Developer: marzipan.se
Publisher: marzipan.se
ESRB Rating: Unrated
Release Date: 2008

Platforms

  • Internet

As a medium, video games are aging. Since their humble beginnings, games have moved away from pure simulation into a storytelling medium, creating and merging conceits along the way. Genres have formed, blurred, and disappeared as bigger, longer, and more sophisticated design standards emerge. In fact, you can hardly play a driving sim any more without dabbling in violent crime, interpersonal relationships, and RPG-esque stat building.

Honestly, it’s a good thing in its way. Games have become richer experiences that capture more than one narrow idea. Human experience doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so context and connections make games more immersive, more compelling, and more real.

However, when you buy scope you pay in depth. It’s getting harder and harder to find a game that recaptures that spirit of the eighties: take an idea (run and gun, falling blocks, murder by vegetable) and realize it simply and fully (Contra, Tetris, Super Mario Bros. 2). This shallow breadth probably contributes to the banal gaming tropes that stifle innovation. If you task a design team with managing combat, a world economy, social NPCs, traffic flow, and more, you shouldn’t be surprised when they do the exact same thing with those mechanics as every other game on the market.

Design complexity also drives control complexity, and many games make use of a depressingly large portion of a computer keyboard. Even console games have ballooned from a modest handful of buttons to sixteen or more. Is it any wonder that you have such a hard time conning your mother into trying your favorite video game?

It turns out that simple, deep, and clever games still exist, however. They’ve just moved to the internet. Flash games in the same vein as Popcap Games are the new stronghold for simple innovation, and they’ve charmed hardcore and casual gamers alike. The flash roundup is dedicated to these unsung and sometimes unpublished games. Each installment will pick out a handful of notable examples of genre flash games based on innovation, accessibility, and outright fun. This week: Platformers.

Shift

Shift is a black-and-white game of edges. It’s game is a platformer in the purest sense: your only task is to guide your silhouetted avatar to a door in each room by running and jumping.

Shift departs from the standard formula in that you can tap the eponymous shift key to flip the stage upside down, pivoting your character around his feet and flipping his polarity between black and white silhouettes. So if you start out as a black silhouette standing on a black block against a white background, tapping the shift key will make you a white silhouette standing inside the inverted black block.

So Shift doesn’t have floors and ceilings per se, but instead has positive and negative space. The walls are real and solid, though, so much of the game consists of bending your brain around the black and white space to circumvent the walls.

The game has a timer for the hardcore perfectionist crowd. On the writing front, it sports a Portal-inspired sense of humor that will amuse the hardcore, though it may also alienate casual gamers. However, the timer and story are largely irrelevant to the gameplay, so casual gamers are still recommended to check it out.

Shift is a short game, clocking in at about five minutes once you’ve figured it out, but hungry gamers can check out the level editor(!) in the sequel for unending fun.

Chronotron

Chronotron is about time in much the same way that Shift is about space. You control a time-traveling robot that needs to collect a piece of his broken time machine from each of forty stages. The machine isn’t completely disabled, however, and will let you travel a few seconds back in time every time you enter it.

Since there are no silly rules about seeing yourself (seeing yourself seeing yourself), this means that your brief backwards jaunt spawns recorded copies of whatever you were doing before you entered the time machine. So, if you need to hold down a switch to open a door, you can just stand patiently on the switch, hop in your time machine, and then pass through the door as your previous incarnation graciously and unseeingly opens the door for you. Paradoxes are a problem though, and if you carelessly trap a past self, you doom all existence. Oops.

At its heart, Chronotron is about nothing so much as management and delegation. Most of the fun in the game comes from breaking the navigation of a room into little steps that a single duplicate can perform. However, putting the plan into action calls for pure platforming grace.

As you go along, the game adds layers of complexity–stopping time, time bombs, and so on–but all the gameplay elements center around a deep exploration of manipulating time, and the stage structure builds the difficulty curve evenly.

Gamers without time to sit down and puzzle through all forty stages can rest soundly with the knowledge that Chronotron actually tracks your progress and you don’t have to retread old territory go get some quality playtime in. So, even if it seems monumental, it’s still worth checking out.

You Have To Burn The Rope

The last game of this Flash Roundup is for hardcore gamers only. It’s not that You Have to Burn the Rope is unreasonably demanding or excessively complex, but the game is best savored after suffering through at least five years of content bloat like minigames and fetch quests.

Without spoiling too much of the game’s succinct brilliance, it’s safe to say that You Have to Burn the Rope is a nicely absurd cure for 120 hours of Xenosaga or trying to control your server economy in World of Warcraft. That said, if the game is too mystifying for even veteran gamers, walkthroughs and a manual are available for support. Expect a Prima guide in the future.

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  • 1 lucyfersam Aug 23, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    I am now relying on you to filter the wide world of flash games down to those that rock for us ;-}