Winter is hard. That’s my explanation for my recent obsession with mobile games.
Usually, mobile games are out of the question for me–my smartphone, now almost two years old, was a freebie and barely has enough memory for the apps I use for my job. Nonetheless, for about six months I squeezed in Heroes of Dragon Age, which gave me a way to revisit some of the characters I loved from the series, and to upgrade them and collect armor for them like a good completionist. To battle and level up, you spend points that regenerate over time, so I had a habit of playing a few rounds when I woke up and when I got home from work. I deleted it abruptly in October, unhappy with the time I was investing into it. (Besides, I wanted the space back; I could have HoDA or Lyft but not both.) But then December came, and I loaded up my Kindle with the following apps.
Sims Free Play. I didn’t keep this very long; even more so than HoDA, the gameplay is most satisfying when you log in often, add more Sims, and cultivate their respective professions and hobbies. Too tempting.
Monument Valley. A beautiful, beautiful puzzle game that delighted me with tactile and unexpected interactions. Take, for example, the Jewel Box level. You are presented with decorative cube. You can open the lid to the left, and a set of doors and stairs emerges as from a pop-up book . Close the lid, and open it to the right, and a different set of doors and stairs is revealed. Close that lid, then shimmy the body of the cube up so an entire castle is revealed inside, plus your tiny princess avatar. You direct her to exit through one of the dark doors, and she disappears. Spin the cube; each spin reveals a delicately hued interior, until you find the one where your princess waits for further direction. The game has the barest hint of a plot–all it needs, really–and all too few levels. I wish there were a hundred more of them.
The Room 1, 2, and 3. Although they are very different in aesthetics, I loved The Room for many of the same reasons I loved Monument Valley. In the first The Room, you are simply given an ornate box. By exploring its edges and panels for clever little switches, puzzles, and secrets, you can open up more and more of the box. In The Room 2, the puzzle is expanded to a whole room, but the charm of solving a clever locked box puzzle more or less remains. The Room 3 expands the puzzle to a whole puzzle tower…. which is too many rooms, The Room. But all three games are delightfully tactile like Monument Valley–not just tapping, but spinning and dragging and exploring–and the puzzles are pleasantly steampunk in aesthetic. If ever a bit of technology trended a hundred years ago–zootropes, phonographs, etc.–it’s in one of these games.
I Love Hue and 2046 are both timewasters of different stripes, but I love them both. It’s very satisfying to swipe cubes together in 2048, although the highest cube I’ve accumulated is two 1024s. (They were so far apart!) I Love Hue gives you a rainbow gradient jumbled up, and you slide the cubes around to find their correct position in the gradient. I am fairly good at it, so the game keeps praising me lavishly like Leslie Knope complimenting Ann Perkins: You beautiful rainbow! You beat the world average! Ideal for keeping the real world from pressing swiftly in during your Hulu commercial breaks.
Meanwhile, on the console I reverted mainly to comfort classics. My neighbor and I triumphantly finished Mass Effect 3, yelling when we saw our beloved Dante Shepherd possibly take a breath at the end. We returned to my neighbor’s old game of Dragon Age Inquisition, mainly cleaning up remaining tombs and wiping out the dragon population of Thedas until there was nothing to do but defeat Corypheus. We continued to collaborate on my replay of Life is Strange; we made some very different choices than my first playthrough, and as a result have had some completely different and wonderful scenes open up. We were very sad to see that one end!
I acquired some Xbox gift cards for the holidays, and while I’m mainly saving these for my future next gen console, I did indulge in a couple of fantasy games.
Faery. This game was a dollar, and totally worth it. You’re a fairy, obviously; you have to check out some different regions to fix disruptions in magical oak trees or whatever. All the quintessential RPG functions are there in at least a vestigial form: your party fights bad guys for loot; you level up and collect magical armor; you chat with townspeople and run their errands. You fly across landscapes that are quite lovely, and the music reminded me of Fable. It’s a peaceful game.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. This game was vaunted as the collaboration between the wildly successful creators behind two bestselling games and a series of bestselling novels. I paid $5 for it, which in comparison to Faery is still a steal: there is easily ten or twenty times as much gameplay, loot, and NPC questing to do, and it is a very pretty game with some cool combat effects. Absolutely worth the investment, in terms of hours I spent thinking about my character build rather than my life. But while it’s a pretty good game, it’s not a great game, and it’s hard to pinpoint why. There is a sprawling map of ecologically varied regions, all beautifully and interestingly drawn, although lacking the sort of breathtaking views that made Skyrim special. These regions are populated with a host of NPCs with problems and plans that need your help, so there’s plenty to do, although not much to gain from doing them–becoming the leader of every single guild in the land nets you some permanent character bonuses, but no amazing loot or unique NPC interactions. The NPCs remind me a little of Fable’s citizens of Albion–cute and cookiecutter–but without the sass. Also like Fable, you can shape your skill tree to suit your gameplay rather than committing to a type at the beginning–the whole plot of the game is that your character’s destiny is wide open, and you can be or do whatever you want. But perhaps in gaming, as in writing, limitations would have inspired more engaging play. Except for an awkward phase toward the beginning, when my detection skills weren’t yet high enough to avoid traps and my HP not yet high enough to take the hit*, I was so powerful that I simply mowed my way through dungeon after dungeon. On a few occasions I even nodded off with the controller in hand.
When I beat the main quest, I tried to learn more about the game and its makers, and…. wow, is it ever a tragic story of bankruptcy and ruin. I am sorry to hear it. I would have liked to play another evolution of this game if it had a little more something.
*In one trap-laden temple, I died often enough to get concern trolled by a pop-up asking if I’d like to change the game’s difficulty to a lower level.
Last summer, I committed to playing the Xbox 360 games I’d acquired for free or cheap because I wanted to pay off my credit card debt before springing for a next gen console. Now I have the financial means to move on, and I’m still hesitating. We’ve spent a lot of time together; it’s hard to let go.
Tales from the Borderlands, episode 1
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 1 and 2
Dance Central 3
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
Lego Star Wars: TCS
Tomb Raider (2013)
Life is Strange