Tree Rex. Eye Brawl. Scarlet Ninjini. If you’re the parent of a small boy there’s a good chance you know these names well: the ferocious cast of Skylanders, a computer-game-meets-action-figure franchise which has become my son’s first honest-to-goodness playground craze.
“Meets” here really means “versus”, in the way a mash-up is “versus”: the gaming and collectibles elements are fused to a fiendish degree. You play the game by placing a physical figure on a “portal of power” – presto! There he is on the screen, stomping around a pretty standard 3D platformer thing. The more figures you buy, the more characters you can use; the more characters you can use, the more game elements you unlock, and the more money Activision makes. There is very little Skylanders merch – no TV show yet, no comics, none of that paraphernalia – because why should there be? The basic collect-and-play mechanism has plenty of financial life in it.
This physical-digital fusion is the heart of Skylanders’ appeal, and it’s innovative in several ways, not all of them so fun. Playgrounds have always been hothouses where peer pressure and parental income brutally intersect – Skylanders rewards wealth (if not thriftiness) like any collectible fad. No novelty there. But successfully importing this mechanic into a console game is setting a precedent. The virtue of console and PC gaming used to be its completeness: buy a game and you’ve bought the whole game. Not so Skylanders: to my knowledge it’s the first really successful application of the “in-app purchase” model of mobile gaming to the big-ticket console mainstream.
GET UR FROAK ON
While most of my online acquaintances were geeking out today at the thought of a new David Bowie album, our house was far more excited by the announcement of new Pokémon games – Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, the first on Nintendo’s 3DS console(1). The announcement was made by the President of Nintendo himself, in a style not far off the Queen at Christmas.
The announcement makes Pokémon creators Game Freak look canny – widely criticised for releasing this year’s games, Black 2 and White 2, on the older DS machine, the rapid follow-up of X and Y shows they’ve been simply holding off until they’ve got a game ready (and a high enough user base to make it worthwhile)(2). After all, if these games make their ship date it will end up that the gap between console release and first Pokémon game is pretty much identical for the DS as 3DS.
So, good business. But good games? The reviews for X and Y are likely to be very similar to the last few Pokémon games, because X and Y themselves are likely to be similar. In fact you could write them now: global franchise, remarkable longevity, but will these be the last, finally they’ve included ____ but a change to ____ is long overdue.
A couple of days of Christmas to go so now to the massive games with hundreds of levels and never ending challenge. And maybe something Christmas related tomorrow! Today is less pretty, festive but is probably the action flash game I have played the most over the last ten years (admittedly as a download so it remembers my progress). Just like Cis’ favourite Mr Fancypants, its a stick figure leaping around with some sort of realistic physics going on. Realistic if you can accelerate massively and jump forever like this little fella:
A lively discussion was had last night amongst several FT regulars about why basketball and soccer don’t lend themselves to a Moneyball-style stats revolution where conventional wisdom about “character” and coming through “in the clutch” are deposed into the sweaty gym bag of history and replaced with a gleaming Excel hierarchy of excellence. Cause basketball and soccer don’t have very many individual, repeatable moments – they’re about how a team coheres and responds to an ever-morphing flow.
Well here’s an online basketball game to set that right. How many baskets can YOU make? (The physics in this are quite nice.)
So today, as we are rolling towards the big day, the windows of our advent calendar should start showing the big guns. The Three Kings, the Little Drummer Boy, the Shitting Catalonian Boy. And certainly when it comes to online flash games this really is the Caganer. Another physics puzzle, well not just another, its THE physics puzzle to eat up your entire festive season. Can you get it from this?
Its not all action action action around here you know. Some times we want contemplative, relaxing games set in some sort of primordial soup. Where biology rather than physics is the aim and, well, you can’t lose. Look at this creature after all, doesn’t look too dangerous does he?
Ah, who can forget the wide-eyed terror of throwing up a hail of low level umbrellas to catch a clumsy chicken who missed your initial shot, but not being able to stay and look after him as two other chickens are falling down on the other side and they’re scared and they’re crying, wah! They need umbrellas, and I have an unlimited supply! When will these chickens learn that their wings are NOT… for flying.
Fact: this is the only online flash game for which I have actually bought merchandise. A man in the supermarket agreed with me vehemently – “they’re for EATING!”… and then followed me around the aisles (probably seeing if I was going to pick up some of those terrifyingly grey ‘Basics!’ chicken wings).
There are many more beautiful looking games in the same style at orisinal.com, but Chicken Wings… is the only one that has had me in a long term trance of joy as your chubby chicken guardian runs about with umbrellas, flinging them up for his chicks to catch and gently drift down safely to the ground.
Warning: if you try to play this on a trackpad rather than a mouse, there will be tears before bedtime! I am quite sure of this! What we need are games designed to take advantage of their hem hem unique capabilities (or perhaps what *I* need is a USB mouse, hmm).
Sorry for delay. Free wine. Can’t think of a game to put up. There is only one solution. Google “MONKEY HIT GAME!” I was very drunk…
Hurrah there is a response.
Hello little fella.
From Kat, Queen of game playing procrastinating (perhaps abdicated):
“Before we had Nintendo brain training, the country’s academic elite were forced to sharpen their faculties in other ways – the Post-It Note Forehead game, shotglass chess, 14-hour Civ III marathons, late night Texas Hold ‘Em. Anything to keep our brains from rotting away under the lobotomising influx of essays, lectures, reading lists, practical write-ups and tutorials – though appearing on dreadful Channel 5 gameshow Brainteaser (filmed nearby) was probably a step too far as one of our chums discovered to his cost.
My intellectual poison of choice was a slow-paced strategy puzzle with a theme familiar i) Isaac Newton ii) to anyone who has ever played Uno.