This comes after a weekend when I finally reached the end of Jack N’ Jill on my Nexus 5. (It’s here on Google Play and over here on iTunes.) It’s rare these days to reach the scripted end of a game, especially on a mobile game.
While a lover of computer and console games, I really have a love-hate relationship with mobile games, as well as browser-based games. Very few are mindful of the limitations those environments set, let alone take advantage of the platforms to create something half-decent.
In short: Most mobile phone and browser-based games are rubbish.
Jack N’ Jill is mindful that it is a game on a mobile phone. You control the character with a “tap screen to control” approach rather than trying to emulate a console controller on-screen. The game starts as a standard endless runner where the player taps the screen to make the character - Jack - jump from platform to platform, with the goal of reaching Jill at the end of every level.
Fall off the bottom of the level? Life used up. Hit a bad dude? Life used up. Fall against some spikes? Life used up. Each time you start again, from the start of the level or the most recent mid-level restart point (which are introduced later in the game).
As the game progresses the character can jump onto walls to jump off, bounce off baddies when landing on them, and collect wings to do a bit of Flappy Birding. There’s 140 levels split into groups of 20 where new game mechanisms are introduced. The graphics are very Gameboy, the tunes are alright.
And for the most part it’s quite enjoyable. There’s the odd really frustrating level, but I know it’s me and my timing of input not the game itself. At times the game made me feel like a terrible gamer, my skills weren’t up to it. The game plays very few tricks - there’s the odd really tight squeeze, an occasional pixel perfect jump, and a couple of points I really had to know the level map ahead to progress. But I knew it was me.
Overall it’s taken about six months to get to the end. When I got there, I felt pretty good. I had beaten the game. It felt rewarding.
I was also watching some of the Tour de France at the weekend. Great times in Yorkshire last year as the famous cycle race kicked off in the county.
I was reminded of a browser-based game I played last summer, part of Yorkshire Building Society’s campaign around their sponsoring the Tour de France’s Grand Depart in Yorkshire. The campaign itself was great, some good use of media and some inventive creative. Along with the campaign came a web-based game.
I wrote at the time:
This is less a game made to enjoy but to endure. The controls are barely described to the user, and even then seem erratic to respond. There is no commitment that a game should be tied down to learning patterns to progress but the speed obstacles come at you combined with the vague sense of control here makes this more a game of chance than a game of skill.
I can’t decide: Is this a game that is badly designed, is it designed people who actually get why people play games? It is clearly designed to deliberately frustrate. But the more I play it the more I feel it is a game that has been designed by people who actually hate gamers.
Every time I play the game, every time my rider falls off his bike I just can’t evade the obstacle. I feel helpless, like the game is designed to beat me at some point, the sooner the better. I persisted. There must be something in there. Playing it drove me to rage, my hands turning to clenched fists every time. I gave up after 40 minutes.
Compare to Jack N’ Jill, which was frustrating, but was designed to be something you progressed through, something you felt you had a sense of control over, had a sense of progress?
The YBS TdF game had a really pleasing visual retro-esque aesthetic and looks lively with its bright colours and seemingly simple gameplay (although it does that mixing pixelated and non-pixelated approach I find uneasy), which drew my son to it. He had several goes and made no progress. “That’s not just fun,” was his review. In a nutshell a seven-year-old had nailed it.
As Satoru Iwata said:
Above all, video games are meant to be just one thing: fun. Fun for everyone.
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