2013 IGF Finalists: Excellence in Design
Samurais and guns tend to not mix very well. Guns are, after all, the reason samurai fell out of favor in feudal Japan. It is hard to engage in honorable combat with a man who can just shoot you in the stomach through all your fancy armor. Samurai Gunn says “this is nonsense, samurai with guns are the coolest.” And it’s absolutely right. This is perhaps the most fun I’ve had playing a competitive arcade game in ages.
Samurai Gunn has no plot, no cutscenes, and no fluff. You and up to three friends play a group of samurai out to murder each other. Deaths are dramatic – there is a black bar zoom-in whenever a player gets a kill – and instantaneous. Health is for sissies. If you can’t avoid getting hit by a big samurai sword or by a massive bullet, you simply don’t deserve to live. To counter this, players can deflect swords and shots by attacking at the right time, which makes combat a constant flow of move, attack, deflect until someone makes a mistake.
This emphasis on lethality and movement is why Samurai Gunn shines as a multiplayer game. Combat is about smart movement and mind games rather than being about finding the right loadout or skill set. The most entertaining competitive titles take relatively simple mechanics and makes them about smart execution, and Samurai Gunn does exactly that. If you can get four people to sit around a TV to chop at each other as super-quick samurai, I guarantee you’ll have an absolute blast. Samurai Gunn is currently unavailable except for in a few arcade locations.
Not all games have to be about action and strategy. Sometimes the smartest design can come from relatively humble roots, and Starseed Pilgrim is proof of that. In this games case, the roots are rather literal: growing is at the heart of Starseed Pilgrim, and it informs every aspect of the game. As a result, Starseed Pilgrim is the game I have spent the most time with out of all the games on the list. Action can be fun, but (relatively) peaceful exploration can be just as enjoyable.
Starseed Pilgrim follows the pilgrim as he builds his home by making excursions into a realm gradually being devoured by nothingness. While this seems like it could make for an excessively boring art game, Starseed Pilgrim dodges that bullet. Smart mechanics combined with distinctive visuals and excellent ambiance makes the player feel both peaceful and anxious. You are gently pushed into progression, and curiosity acts as more of a driving force than any desire to win or get a high score.
You plant seeds in Starseed Pilgrim. Big surprise, I know, but it is how the seeds work that really makes the game great. Each seed is useful in its own right, and smart usage is how you progress towards getting the all-important keys. One seed creates a brownish-green swamp tile that makes your jump very tiny but drastically slows the creep of the void. Another creates a light blue cross that, while very ineffectual at stopping void progress, serves as a platform for jumping across it. Yet another shoots a straight line in a direction, creating long horizontal and vertical platforms for you to escape on. This combination of gardener and Tetris is addicting and enjoyable, and definitely deserves a spot in the design finalists. You can buy Starseed Pilgrim from the developer’s site.