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InFlux by Joshua Baldwin

I’ve forgotten nearly everything about the 1991 cartoon Fievel Goes West. The only thing I remember is a thirty-second clip in which a tumble-weed bounces through the desert to a Blues Brother’s track. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9SJi8a_yeM.

It might seem like a strange thing to stick in your head, but I know exactly why it did. It’s the fact that the little ball of weed looks sentient, like he knows exactly where and why he’s bouncing. He knows he shouldn’t know this, but that just makes him all the more delighted.

I’m so sure that this is what made me remember the scene, because I recently rediscovered the feeling in an entirely new context – InFlux. In InFlux you play as a little blue steel ball that drops from the sky onto an idyllic island. The island is your plaything, and the mechanics governing it allow you to enjoy it to the utmost – you tumble down valleys, bob along streams, fling yourself into the air and hang in glorious slow motion, drinking in your surroundings. And what surroundings: The maps are beautiful, the beaches, glittering caves, and gushing waterfalls treated with a minimalistic clarity and a real mastery of light. The soundtrack too, IDM shot through with icy sparkles, matches the levels perfectly.

Roll all of this together, and you are left with one of the most perfectly created atmospheres I’ve ever seen – it doesn’t scream joy, like something in the vein of Botanacula, but whispers it softly in your ear. Much of what you see in the game is mysterious, even a little sad – abandoned villages with smouldering hearths and empty huts – but somehow, you can’t help feeling that the world is better this way, taken from the grimy hands of man and given to this curious little ball, a place where his desires to see and leap and love can be satisfied.

Tearaway by Daniel New

Having filled the gap between Christmas and New Year, Tearaway is a late consideration for my game of 2013. A remarkable achievement considering that its core gameplay is, well, quite unremarkable. As far as platform games go, Tearaway is as linear and simple as you can get. There’s little challenge, and progression is nothing more than a well sign-posted amble punctuated by straightforward platforming and the occasional round of rather tiresome combat. But, as it turns out, Tearaway is not a platform game at all.

The elements that make Tearaway soar are found in its artistic design, player agency and lasting emotional impact. The game is beautiful, that much is obvious in screenshots, but watching it in motion is a pure delight. The handcrafted world bristles with activity, like a craft shop come to life after dark. Watching origami creatures graze in fields of unfurled paper strips while bridges rustle themselves into intricate assembly never bores.

And then there is the way the PS Vita is used to connect the player with the game. No input method is left untouched, and bar some occasional fumbling it all works wonderfully, letting you prod, push, pull, photograph, speak and tear into the game world with delightful, and often unexpected, consequences. It’s an interactive cocktail made all the more delicious by casting the player as an essential part of the narrative. Once you realise that the game is about the ride, and your part in it, any complaints about the its simplistic structure are rendered pointless.

The game’s finest moments comes as it draws to a close and it’s at this point you realise that Tearaway has more in common with Journey than, say, Super Mario Bros. And as its story is literally wrapped up before your eyes, it’s hard to deny that its impact is just as affecting.

You can read Parts 1 and 2 of this series here and here.

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