Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Tiny Bang Story

I downloaded this quaint puzzler thanks to it being very cheap on Steam the other day and found it to be enjoyable if a bit too subdued. First of all the game looks very pretty and its calm, peaceful hand-drawn backdrops perfectly encapsulate the atmosphere which pervades this very short adventure. This atmosphere is perhaps best described as a serene daydream. The game's music equally keeps this sleepy mood up. Plucked guitars, tinkling bells and soft synths make sure that whilst you solve the game's relatively meagre puzzles you never  feel pressured to stay awake. Even the narrative, which involves you rebuilding a tiny planet after the eponymous Bang shatters it, is utterly devoid of the usual immediacy which games trash their players with. In fact its quietly refreshing to be able to play a game at your own pace. There is no urgency to the puzzles and rebuilding the shattered planet seems to hardly matter to the planet's lethargic population. This means that when playing the game I was never stressed about puzzle solving and was able to enjoy experimentation in a relaxed mood.

The puzzles are also quite neatly connected to the game's bare-bones narrative. All of the game's puzzles have to be constructed before you can solve them. Much of the game therefore revolves around searching for missing objects which, once found, are collected together in order to construct the puzzle. You can then go about solving it. This structure cleverly echoes the game's meta-puzzle of rebuilding the tiny planet like a jigsaw, suggesting that everyday objects and mechanisms are reliant on the well being of the planet as a whole. But this structure is also problematic. If the idea of scavenging for items sounds dreadfully boring than you wouldn't be too far off. The 'main' puzzles - i.e. those which you eventually build -  are much like those found in arch puzzler Professor Layton, but the searches which precede these more absorbing and sometimes taxing puzzles are at times very boring and can feel like filler in a game which is already very short. Much of the time you spend scrutinising the painterly scenes, not because they are enjoyable to look at but because you need to find a missing tap or ladder rung. Arguably it's better than the utter despair which games like Monkey Island can evoke, with its infamously absurd item puzzles, but unfortunately Tiny Bang Story lacks the buoyant story or engaging characters to keep you interested.

This disinterest is partially due to the lack of interactivity and communication the player feels with the game itself. Movement is represented by a shifting frame, there is no player character, just your cursor and there is no real communication with the game's NPC's. These characters are so uninterested in your presence (or lack of) that you end up feeling like your efforts throughout the game have little point. There is, in a sense, no reward whatsoever in helping the rather ungrateful inhabitance of this tiny planet and final, congratulatory frame seems like a parody of an awkward Christmas lunch rather than the reward for your efforts. In this respect the game's admirably peaceful, minimalist and no pressure attitude stumbles over its own inherent problem. Without urgency and an engaging narrative the game becomes a bit too lethargic and means that completing the game loses meaning and reward. It's a very beautiful game which is worth buying simply to look at, but it's not quite up there with other indie titles such as Machinarium or Limbo. But for a cheap price it's a nice break from the feverish  urgency of more mainstream gaming experiences. 

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