The Games of TOJam 4: Part 3

Blimples get hungry in Bloat!

Blimples get hungry in Bloat!

Hooray! Today we see the second round of releases from TOJam 4‘s game library, including the Silver People Choice Award winner. Granted, it was all supposed to be out on the 8th, but today’s as good as any!

This week we’ve got the second 9 games; Alpinist, Bloat!, Domesticity, Enthrapagatia, Happy Happy Mouseland, No Homes for Gnomes, Pond Scum, TOJam Basketball, and Silver award winner Flock U!

If you haven’t been following along, you should check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series!

Today, I’ll be covering Bloat!, Domesticity, No Homes for Gnomes, TOJam Basketball and Alpinist.

Alpinist

Alpinist

Alpinist is a short, tricky little platformer by Craig Adams, that runs mostly with the idea of momentum. It’s hard to believe that it’s effectively a prototype at first, as it feels very finished until you realize how short it is.

With an incredibly awesome pixel art style, Alpinist has a really amazing environment built up around it; you start at a mountain top cabin and the feel of a chilly mountaineering expedition is really there. While you really only have two directions to go — goat visitation or goal line — and you can fall and ‘die’ in either direction.

There’s not a lot more to say about Alpinist at the moment — it looks and feels really great, but it’s so short that there’s not a lot to really go on. I do believe it’ll be an excellent title when it’s done — so we’ll wait and see.

Bloat!

Bloat!

Bloat! is a game about an inflatable food-chain… and poop, as part of that chain, from Ryan Creighton, the multi-talented man from Untold Entertainment. I must admit right now that I’m probably biased in favor of Bloat!I mean, it called me awesome.

Bloat! has a simple premise which it delivers in careful bites; it’s inhabitants, Blimples, can change size with a click and drag. Blimples eat smaller blimples. Blimples come in three colors, red, blue and green. If red eats green, green eats blue or blue eats red, it’s good. Otherwise, it’s bad. It’s simple, but devious, as in the last few levels where the game really picks up, you can quickly find yourself scrambling to control the blimples before they devour all their kin.

Bloat! has a number of very strong points — foremost, it’s very cleanly done, it has a very colorful, charming cartooned style, the blimples are lovable little abominations (which could probably be marketed as plush toys), and the chomp-and-poop game play is hard not to like.

I have one complaint about Bloat! and it’s a small one — the click-and-drag controls, while easy to learn are kind of sticky and finicky. It’s kinda hard sometimes to isolate the blimple you want and scale them, which often leads to a heart-rending scene of digestive mayhem. The thing is — I’m not sure how it might be fixed. Beyond that, the game is understandably short and lacking in variation, as every level is simply building off of the last. It’s only the last two levels that really feel like a game, so it sorta feels like a long tutorial to a short product, but that’s easily forgiven.

I would like to see the game take place on a seamless track; the macaronis and warps, while effective, are a little jarring at times. On a few occasions I missed seeing a little Blimple wander in to a warp, only to have it devour everything once it got on the other side — funny, but sometimes annoying. While much of Bloat!‘s difficulty is derived from this, I imagine it could serve as a base for a larger scale game with much more complicated settings… maybe like a cannibalistic Lemmings. Regardless, it’s a great game to play through and serves as a very inspirational little experience.

Domesticity

Domesticity

Text adventures, or Interactive Fiction as those who write them generally prefer them called, are a surprisingly thriving medium for games today, and Leif Conti-Groome‘s Domesticity serves as a good example of that. It’s a game about mundane chores in a house dominated by an injured and psychotic woman, where you adopt the role of some sort of spineless man-sloth named Chuck.

I have to admit, I was unable to actually finish Domesticity. In fact, I had a hard time getting anywhere at all. While the game features very atmospheric writing, there are less clues to what you need to do than I would hope for, as the first several times I tried the game, I died before even figuring out where I was. I had to actually draw a map of the apartment to even begin to discern what was where — I feel that the use of diagonal directions from the very first room was perhaps a little unintuitive. In fact, with the game on such a small scale, the use of compass directions seems counter-intuitive, though it is traditional.

Domesticity has some real strength in being both very weird and very elaborately written. While I enjoyed the writing, I felt most of the time like I was being described familiar things that I should have already understood in the kind of mental short hand familiarity creates — while great for the character, it left me as a player very lost. Additionally, the first task; finding and talking to Jarlene, and it’s arbitrary punishment of death should you fail to accomplish it quickly seemed a little unnecessary to me. Particularly, the fact that the game leads you down the hallway to the bedroom, then doesn’t tell you which door is correct and kills you if you’re wrong, well, that’s just kind of a jerk move.

The game features a number of other little troubling bits — such as not always giving you descriptions when you enter a new room; it often leaves you wondering if the parser is broken. I was sometimes killed for trying to dispose of the flowers, and other times not. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the magic sentence to let me splash the bathroom scale with water. And the parser dumbly responds when you leave out a particle, which I found annoying, though those new to text games may not even notice.

Ultimately, Domesticity is obtuse, frustrating, and arbitrary, which is pretty much standard fare for text adventure games. I think it’s an awesome submission for the Jam, but playing it makes me suspicious that Leif might be subtling acting on a secret dislike for me, personally — this is particularly off putting after Bloat! called me awesome, so I don’t know what the deal is.

TOJam Basketball

TOJam Basketball

TOJam Basketball, from Jaak Riga, is impressive, though it may not be immediately obvious that it is. It’s a frustrating little free-throw game that features a number of weird bugs, some haphazard graphics and a general feeling of unfinishedness. While that’s generally easy to shrug off and assume that it’s an incomplete entry (which it is, as I understand) what’s impressive is that it’s coded in Javascript. While there isn’t much to say about it, TOJam Basketball deserves some mention and praise for trying something kinda crazy and getting it to work as well as it did.

No Homes for Gnomes

No Homes for Gnomes

Which leaves us with No Homes for Gnomes, a game of systematic discrimination and abuse via allergies against little people, by Team High Five (Jordan Macklem, Andy Smith, and Chris Towle). It a really cool variant on the basic tower defense model, producing a fun, frantic experience.

So here’s how it goes; you have five kinds of flowers. Bigger flowers are more attractive to gnomes,  holds more gnomes at a time, and do more damage, but take longer to reward you with income. Each of the flowers only offer up cash when they fill up — a meter measured with petals that show how much damage they’ve dealt to gnomes. If they fill up before they kill held gnomes, those gnomes are released, so you need a certain amount of redundancy in your defense structure to keep them from overtaking you.

The game’s got great music and sound, and a really cute bird’s eye view set of cartoon gnomes. It also features a lovely interface done in a cross-stitch style, as well as a slightly-too-sparse instruction screen proceeding the game. The game works very well, though it’s a little frustrating the first few times you play it before you really get a grip on the strategy. It’d be nice if it had an internal reset of some kind though; when the game ends, win or lose, it just stops and sits. Oddly, you can use that time to sell your flowers if you want, though you can’t do anything else.

Two things — I feel that this game would go from good to awesome if it were on a larger field with more gnomes all at once. As it stands it’s a little cozier than I like. The game would also benefit from levels or scenarios of some kind, which I imagine are absent only due to time constraints. Regardless, No Homes for Gnomes is a stylish, fun experience that I really enjoyed, even if it was short.

Images in today’s post shameless stolen from TOJam’s site. Visit them!

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2 Responses to “The Games of TOJam 4: Part 3”

  1. The Games of TOJam: Part 4 « The Art of Game Says:

    […] The Art of Game Game Design, Theory and Practice « The Games of TOJam 4: Part 3 […]

  2. The Games of TOJam 4: Part 5 « The Art of Game Says:

    […] you’re just joining us now, you should check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of this series for more great TOJam […]

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