The Games of TOJam 4: Part 7

Sail in icy waters in da Boat!

Sail in icy waters in da Boat!

Huzzah! The remainder of the TOJam 4 games have been released, the last 9. Admittedly, I’ve been a little slow of the draw to post my reviews, but here we go anyhow.

Finally, we’ve got Bob the Blob, da Boat, Flip the Beach, Lockpick, Multiplayer Line Defense, Spirit Guide, Swine Flu Apocalypse, TEXMEX and the winner of the People’s Choice Award for Best Use of Theme, SCALE.

If you’re just joining us on these reviews, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6!

Today I’ll be reviewing Bob the Blob, da Boat, Multiplayer Line Defense, Spirit Guide, and TEXMEX.



TEXMEX, of Traffic Experience Xeno Monster EX, is a simple game with some serious ideas behind it wherein a monster demolishes traffic, from the minds of Team Ferraro (Robertson Holt, Neil Gower, Dave Ahn, and Catherine Hayday). It takes advantage of a (still) new Google 3D web plug in to offer a 3D traffic smashing experience right in your browser.

The game is very straight forward. You control a giant monster, you destroy traffic, life is good. You have three attacks (which have no discernible differences) that you can unleash on traffic, limited only by your energy meter. There’s nothing to hurt you or stop you, so go nuts. Eventually your smashing earns you victory.

TEXMEX not only has awesome presentation, from the newspaper splash screen and comic half-tone game frame, but also has a wide swath of ideas on how to use and abuse new technology. At the Jam, there was talk about having the game dynamically loading maps from Google Maps, and possibly lifting structures from the Google Earth catalog. (Also, there was some mention of adding ‘Real Time Traffic Monitoring’ but I believe that was in jest.)

Admittedly, TEXMEX has a lot of cool ideas where it lacks execution. There’s very little animation, and even the vehicles don’t look like much. The map looks sort of like an unusual flooring than a city, and there still not really much to do.  Despite that, I really like it; or at least, the promise of what it could mean down the line, either as a finished game or as inspiration for other games using similar technology.

And props to Team Ferraro for taking the leap with unfamiliar tech and trying something new and crazy!

Spirit Guide

Spirit Guide

Spirit Guide from Michael Todd, Ian McKay, Stephen Finney and Envy is an artsy first person adventure game that revolves around a spiritual journey and a neat flying mechanic. It’s a short, ambitious title that really stuck with me.

The game seems tricky — near impossible at first — until you begin to understand the game’s core mechanic; gliding. Essentially, you have a ‘fly’ meter that recharges pretty quickly, but not while in use. So to jump around from platform to platform, you must fly, but it makes more sense to ‘flap’, rather than to just expend the whole meter up front. Soon, you’ll be gliding around with easy. In fact, it felt to me that the game’s difficulty went from insane to trivial with the mastery of that one mechanic — I imagine that was a result of the short amount of time available to fine tune the level difficulties.

Most of Spirit Guide is about fetching stuff and bringing it back to people. It feels like there was an intended story, likely something inspired and philosophical, that was never delivered during TOJam’s short span. Spirit Guide spends a lot of time holding you on the cusp of awe with it’s unique art style and strange levels, but never actually gets you to that point. It’s as though the game wants to be profound but is having a hard time determining how to be just that.

Bob the Blob

Bob the Blob

Bob the Blob from Jeffery Wong is an aggravatingly difficult game, spotted equally with interesting, good ideas and bugs. The game revolves around guiding a character who moves from point to point by mouse clicks. Your aim is to collect cookies and not die, which is not anywhere as simple as it sounds.

Like a few of the other TOJam 4 titles, Bob the Blob let you change your size in order to change the way you interact with your environment. Some enemies Bob could ‘eat’ if he was larger than they were; other times you needed to move through narrow gaps, requiring a tighter waistline. Sizing up and down was just a matter of rolling the mouse wheel. Moving is a bigger trick, since you must commit fully to each movement — Bob can’t change directions mid movement. This would probably be less of a problem, except that most of the hazards you encounter are moving hazards, and Bob’s movement is a little sticky.

Ultimately Bob the Blob comes down to two essential elements, one good, one bad. On the side of good; Bob the Blob revolves around anticipation and patterns, forcing you to try and deduce the enemy movements to go from safe space to safe space. On the side of bad; as the game continues, enemy movements become increasingly random, to the point where you are at some time required to navigate a series of narrow spaces patrolled by a half dozen enemies who dart around in no perceivable pattern. In the end, the strengths of the game are defeated by it’s weaknesses, and I doubt more than a few encounters with Bob the Blob end with an emotion other than frustration.

Despite it’s angering qualities and unpolished appearance, Bob the Blob does offer up some interesting ideas about how to control a character, and it’s well worth checking out, so long as your blood pressure isn’t too high.

da Boat

da Boat

da Boat comes from esteemed organizer Jim McGinley and Polly Lee and happens to be a delightful little game. It’s straight forward enough — you steer a boat through a field of ice bergs looking for red markers. Also, you can grow and shrink the ship with a zooming function.

da Boat has three major problems. The turning controls feel a little sticky (though I imagine this is less due to precise turning and more a graphical thing) making turning around and sharp corners a pain. The game could use damage or something to discourage players from simply ramming their way through the game. And I wish there was sound, even if it was just a motor sound, a crash sound, and some sort of victory chime.

I saw these first because, despite it’s simple nature, that’s all there is to complain about. da Boat is a lot of fun, and while it’s not the most beautiful game, the graphics are clean and the icebergs look quite cool. The motion used in the game is REALLY cool, including the fact that the icebergs do react to your speed and mass. Being able to scale in and out was handy, though I usually used it to find my next target rather than slip in to tight spaces. (On that note, a compass would have been handy.)

I can’t help but think that da Boat would make for an awesome multiplayer race, where you compete to find the markers. Given the player ability to push iceberg around (slowly), it could lead to some very strange and hilarious tactics. All in all, da Boat is a great entry; shocking considering how busy Jim was during the whole Jam. (Admittedly, at first icebergs were sold separately, but that’s ok!)

Multiplayer Line Defense

Multiplayer Line Defense

Finally, we’ve got Multiplayer Line Defense from Levo DeLellis; a rare and unusual multiplayer take on Tower Defense games. At the core of it, each player has do decide on how to spend their resources — attacking or defending. You can opt to either build one of a number of towers or instead, send one of a number of lizards at your opponent. (Not sure why Levo wanted lizards, but they were fun to draw.)

Unfortunately, both players must use the same computer at the moment, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear win conditions. The game has a number of working mechanics, but the overall of it doesn’t work. We don’t know anything about any of the units, offensive or defensive, except the little we can observe. The interface might offer some insight to it’s creator, but it’s not very meaningful to me.

Moreover, even if each player can see their own screens on separate computers, there’s no information sent back to the other player about how well their forces fared when they attack. It’s actually not all that clear as to how well YOU fare when attacked. The enemies just vanish. Combat is almost entirely invisible.

Levo’s game is clearly incomplete. Lots of potential, but it’s a crazy, crazy ambitious design for three days. Word on the street is that he’s still at it, so maybe we’ll see a finished version of it soon — and that’d be quite cool.

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


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3 Responses to “The Games of TOJam 4: Part 7”

  1. Jim McThanksSoMuch Says:

    Thanks so much for continuing the herculean task of reviewing the games. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. The potential of TEXMEX, the style of Spirit, the difficulty of Bob, the Bergs in da Boat, the incompleteness of Line. Well spotted all. For the record, I worked another 4 full days (~28 hours) on “da Boat” after the Jam. The version I completed at the Jam (in the History) is not shocking whatsoever. i.e. There are no icebergs.

    • Greg Says:

      Better stay out of politics with that kind of full disclosure, Jim. 😀
      Any further plans to upgrade or otherwise work with da Boat?

  2. The Games of ToJam 4: Part 8 « The Art of Game Says:

    […] The Art of Game Game Design, Theory and Practice « The Games of TOJam 4: Part 7 […]

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