Saturday, December 11, 2010

How minor flaws can ruin a casual game.

I have tested scads of casual games. New games are released every single day, and yet I buy very few of them.

I have identified a category of game that I call "Great game, if it didn't have this minor flaw." Many are the times when I was close to purchasing a game, but decided against it on account of a minor flaw.

Minor flaws have amazing power. They can make or break the purchase, and can often be the difference between satisfaction and agony.

What do I mean when I say, "minor flaw"? I mean, some feature that is small in scope or principle. This is contrasted with big flaws, such as "way too short" or "terrible artwork."

Let me give you some examples that I thought of this morning. I'll begin with the king of all tragic minor flaws.

My Kingdom for the Princess 1 and 2

Here was a game with interesting mechanics and nice graphics, with some strategy and time management. But it wasn't long before I cringed at the realization that you can't chain your actions. Many time management games build in a chaining feature, so that you can plan ahead while your character is carrying out her actions. But this game, which so obviously needs chaining, lacks this feature. A few levels without this feature had me bailing and uninstalling what was otherwise a pretty cool game.

Then, they released a sequel. "Maybe they heard the complaints from the community and allowed chained actions this time!" we all thought. But it was not to be. Again, they denied us the sweet freedom of chained actions. How could they make this blunder twice in a row? Was the feature that hard to build in? For this reason, I bailed on both games.



Robin's Quest: A Legend Born

There are many games that fall into this category, but Robin's Quest is the first game that came to mind.

The flaw: The game is too easy.

The game was beautiful, with nice music, a clean interface, and a variety of tasks to accomplish. But there was very little challenge. If I'm going to spend money on a game such as this, I want it to make my mind work. Breezing through a game doesn't offer the kind of mental challenge that I'm looking for. The puzzles should have been more plentiful and more difficult. With a bit more difficulty, this game could have been really cool.

A second little quibble: It certainly didn't help that Robin was a woman either. I'm not against female characters - I've played dozens of games in the female protagonist role, which is fine with me. But this is a Robin Hood story, so it should be about a man. But this developer wanted to conform to the feminist culture in which we live, casting Robin's husband as a helpless whelp trapped in prison, while his heroic wife escapes from prison and works to save him. In a culture that feminizes and degrades men enough as it is, this game certainly doesn't help matters.

Enlightenus II: The Timeless Tower

I liked the first Enlightenus game (read my review), but was disappointed when I played the sequel.

The flaw: The game was too much like the first game.

I was hoping for some changes and twists to make the sequel fresh. But the developer didn't deliver. Sure, there were some tiny differences, but the game was mostly just an extension to the first game. The mechanics felt just the same, and even the music was recycled. I didn't feel like continuing with more of the same old stuff, so I abandoned this game.

There are cases where doing the same thing over again works out wonderfully, as long as appropriate changes are made. For example, Luxor 3 was an awesome marble popper. Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife was mechanically very similar, keeping every good element from Luxor 3. But they changed things like story, how the marketplace looked, and how you traveled around the map. They even added a battle mode. This is how sequels should work. The Drawn series also did this very well. (I'm still writing my review of Drawn: Dark Flight.)

Farm Frenzy 3 Series

I loved Farm Frenzy and Farm Frenzy 2. Those games did everything right. Even Farm Frenzy Pizza Party was fun, if you didn't mind a rehash of FF2.

Then, Farm Frenzy 3 was released. They had updated the graphics and interface with some new polish, and would eventually start moving into more unique and varied settings. The game also introduced a new female protagonist who would remain the focus of a storyline, which had never been a part of previous FF games. (Need I explain why the developer would introduce this new character? Or why the character was young, blonde, and female? Sex sells, folks. Even on the farm, apparently. *sigh*)

This new Farm Frenzy game engine spawned numerous FF3-based sequels, including:
But there was one minor flaw: incredibly long load times.

As much as I've wanted to enjoy these new FF games, the load times are longer than they need to be. When you're testing a demo and counting the minutes, you can't sit there waiting...waiting...waiting...

I also noticed that the game will sometimes hang for just a split second when a bear is about to fall into the scene. Little glitches like that, and the introduction of the nubile female character (read: cheap marketing strategy), have kept me from investing in these games.

So, what about you? Have you ever run into ruinous little flaws in games that would otherwise be good games?

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