There are quite a few hacking minigames in Pony Island, so many that I’m not sure if this is best described as a hacking/puzzle game or a platformer/parody game or something in-between or encompassing all of those things. But for the purposes of this post, all I care about is the hacking gameplay. Thanks to some surprisingly clever uses of art, Pony Island makes the same puzzle mechanics feel like actual software coding and also like a children’s educational game.
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Action in an action movie moves fast. Games have always tried to emulate such action by moving just as fast while demanding that the player learn to keep up. Fighting games, like Mortal Kombat X or Street Fighter V, demand that players learn an intricate series of button combinations and also be dexterous enough to input them on a moment’s notice. A character-action game like God of War or Devil May Cry demand of us the exact same thing, but against AI opponents instead of other players. Action demands speed, usually.
You Must Build a Boat is a mobile game that crosses an endless runner with a match-three game. You command a ship captain who automatically runs through a dungeon, encountering treasure and monsters and traps along the way. On the game board, you must move tiles around a grid to match three symbols in a row in order for him to interact with those treasures and monsters and traps. Treasure can’t be taken unless three keys are matched, monsters can’t be slain unless three swords are matched, and so on. Throughout all this matching, the screen is constantly scrolling, so the longer that you take to make the matches, the closer the captain gets to the edge of the screen. If he gets pushed off, then your run through the dungeon is over.
The world of Dying Light is harsh, and the world of its expansion, The Following, is even harsher. There’s no fast travel in the expansion, safe zones are few and far between, and there are significantly more Runner zombies than before. When I set out to do a mission, whether it be something major and story-related or it is just a minor collection quest, I gird myself with the knowledge that getting there is going to be tough. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. I have to be prepared to run away, to ditch my car for higher ground, and most importantly I have to keep track of the time, lest I be stuck out in the open when night falls and the real monsters come out. I have to be ready for all of this even though I’m fitted out with grenades, powerful weapons, and a wealth of med kits. Yea, the world of Dying Light is harsh, and it makes getting anywhere a pain in the ass. And I love it.
I tend to put roguelike RPGs into two categories: The games in which we fight people and the games in which we fight something more akin to elemental forces. I usually prefer the “forces” roguelikes. These are games in which we struggle against something that we can’t kick or punch. It’s an idea we battle, something universal and almost mythical in its scope. These are games like Out There, in which we explore a galaxy and pray that we find enough resources along the way to fuel another jump, or Tharsis, in which we struggle against constant mechanical failures aboard a starship, like characters might in a disaster movie. We’re not fighting other people in these games. We’re fighting nature itself: the barren universe and the cruel indifference of space.
When up against such all-encompassing forces, how can we not expect to fail? These kinds of roguelikes make me feel okay about losing, and since they are roguelikes, I’ll be losing a lot. Additionally, It’s nice when those failures don’t sting.