Saturday, September 5, 2009

Guardian Rock: A Minimalist Smash

A lot of times, minimalist games are from designers who are just cutting their teeth on Flash development and coding. But some of the most accomplished and original games have a clean, simple look that belies months of designing effort.

Guardian Rock is a great example of this second category. A title that takes box-moving games and requires a little bit of planning, GR casts you in stone -- I mean, in the role of a stone. You're the Guardian Rock, the last defense your ancient, treasure-loaded temple has from hordes of cute little archaeologists that squeak when you wind up and pulp them with thousands of pounds of force.

The game's difficulty curve is patient enough, but it ramps up quickly so that you're no longer breezing through ten levels at a time. The simplicity and cleverness in level design make for some fiendish layouts, and I've only made it to level 11 so far.

Animation, sound effects and visual effects (like cracking blocks and knocking dust off the ceilings) go hand in hand with the wacky 8-bit Nintendo-meets-reggae background music. The controls are very simple (directional keys) but you are able to obtain keys for smart bombs that clear a level. Sometimes even this isn't enough as you need to make sure you're lined up to exit the level, and sometimes you can accidentally strand yourself.

One plus (or minus, depending on how much time you have) is the requirement that you use MochiCoins to purchase upgrades. So far I haven't made a commitment to Mochi Games -- their virtual currency costs money -- but maybe someday when they send an innocuous, must-join Web 2.0 invite I'll bite. In the meantime, Guardian Rock offers 48 free levels. This game's definitely got my attention, and time will tell if I'll get the 24-level upgrade packs.

Overall rating: A-
Graphics: A- Simple yet functional.
Gameplay: A. One-way blocks, destroyable blocks, and more make for an interesting cerebral trip. May bore shooter fans.
Sound: A. Funky, lively, and well-balanced.
Replay value: B+. Remains to be seen whether I'll spring for the upgrade packs, but levels 1-10 have been brain-busters at times.
Other: A. Well laid out, and the interface was good enough to save 7 levels I played before I added my Facebook account.

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The Vermont Country Store: Stepping Out For Some Down Time

My grandfather made a lacquered red and black checkerboard with built-in trays for holding checkers after games. The checkers themselves were cross-sections taken from a wooden broom but they were so well painted and finished that they looked factory-made. The checker trays had thin painted wooden doors that would drag over the lacquer with a cool clacking sound. One side held the checkers in a 3x4 pattern, while the other stored them in a series of Xs.

From what I was told about the old days, they seemed grim, hard, and largely joyless. But having seen that checkerboard, and played a few games too, I realized that even back then all it took was a little set-up to find a time and place for a social game or two.

I watched the last vestiges of country stores in the area vanish in the 1970s, and always kept a fondness for reminders of the "olden days". This video of the Vermont Country store made me want to stop by and unwind for a while.

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Yee-Haw! What Rednecks Do For Fun

For those jobs where you don't have the supplies to make little footballs and ping them around cubicles, the chance to have fun is still there. Check out this one-ride, free-admission, industrial-strength Redneck Trailer Park.

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