Gone Home is not a game you can be good or bad at. It’s not a game that will test your twitch reflexes or resource management strategizing or tactical adaptiveness or even really your puzzle-solving abilities. For a small subset of capital-G-gamers, it’s not even a game – not a “real” game, at least. (And if you’ve ever been to a comments section, you’ve met these people.) Gone Home and other games like it have been dubbed “walking simulators,” a term intended as a pejorative by those who think these aren’t “real” games and embraced by those who enjoy them. But the discussion (such as it is) of how to classify Gone Home misses the point of such games, which is ultimately the point of all games: the experience of playing them, whether or not you want to call it “play” or call them “games.”
By now, two-and-a-half years since the game first appeared on PCs, many people are familiar with the essentials of Gone Home: you play as Katie, a 21-year-old just returning home from a year in Europe to the unfamiliar house her family moved to in her absence, only to discover that, though it’s the middle of the night, everyone – Mom, Dad, and sister Sam – is gone. To figure out what has happened, you wander through the house, picking up objects and reading documents, trying to piece together a year’s worth of family drama. And that’s it.
To some, the “that’s it” is a criticism: what the game is missing is the need to defend yourself from hordes of attacking werewolves using the increasingly sophisticated arsenal of weapons you find around the house, an adventure for which the family drama is context and backdrop. To others, the “that’s it” is grand praise, as in: that’s all developer Fullbright needed to make an engrossing game. I find myself squarely in the latter camp.
Continue reading Backlog Adventures: Gone Home
The Sisyphean task of working through a backlog of yet-to-be-played videogames requires a certain amount of strategy. There is, of course, the matter of playing all the games, but you also have to stop the backlog from growing. Getting through Skyrim won’t do much for my backlog if I end up buying five other games in the interim. So I have, for the most part, conditioned myself to ignore all those great deals on the dozens or hundreds of games that I’ve missed over the years, and to try to buy games one at a time, right before I play them. Getting past – if not necessarily through – the backlog is going to require letting some of these games die on the vine, and that’s a lot easier when you don’t own the games in the first place.
One of the big exceptions, though, is indie games. The market is overflowing right now with fun, quirky, unique indie games that can often be had pretty cheaply. A lot of these games only take a few hours to get through, so it seems pretty harmless to stockpile a handful of them for a rainy day. Or so I tell myself. Taking advantage of a few deals on little indie games isn’t the same as grabbing a cheap copy of Mass Effect Trilogy is what I’m saying. So when Badland: Game of the Year Edition (normally $11.99) went on sale for six bucks during an ID@Xbox Spotlight sale, I grabbed it and threw it on the pile.
Badland was first released in 2013 for iOS and Android (and then a year later for Windows Phone, as is tradition) and won Apple’s iPad Game of the Year award. A GotY edition was then released in 2015 for various consoles and other platforms. It only takes a quick look to understand the game’s appeal as an impulse purchase. It has the kind of look that feels unique in a very familiar way, a cross between In Limbo and Ori and the Blind Forest, casting a silhouetted foreground against a colorful, painterly forested background. It’s of a type that jumps out from a screenshot and promises a dose of adorable fun. It references a lot of other games and styles that seem to pop up in every other indie game, but, on the other hand, its appeal is irresistible. It is a puppy, basically. It looks like all the other puppies, but it is a puppy, right in front of you! Continue reading Backlog Adventures: Badland