Now Boarding 1.2. This game has been out for a while, but it’s just received a new expansion covering Caribbean airports — a free upgrade for people who have older versions of the game. Now Boarding is an airport game, which makes it perhaps very superficially resemble, say, Airport Mania.
Fortunately it’s considerably more inventive than that. What I really like about Now Boarding is the way that gameplay evolves. It starts off as a time-management kind of deal, with the player responsible for putting individual passengers on planes, dragging planes to the gate, and doing hands-on customer service. Gradually, though, it becomes more like a tycoon game. You get to hire employees to do the menial customer-management tasks while you yourself take a more high-level view and devote yourself primarily to laying out routes and upgrading your terminals and fleet. Towards the end of the game, you may find that instead of repeatedly creating custom routes for all your planes, you are instead optimizing a set of repeatable loops for the different planes in your fleet. Congratulations: you’ve ceased to be a charter company and turned into a regular scheduled carrier.
Adding new geography is a genuine rather than merely cosmetic upgrade to gameplay, because the strategies for best plane assortment and route layout depend on where your hub is, how close it is to other small and large cities, which airports have seasonal spikes in traffic, and other features of that nature.
DinerTown Tycoon. Longer discussion forthcoming on GameSetWatch at some point, but the short version is that this is a tycoon game set in the same universe as Diner Dash. The gameplay is genuinely different from the Dash series; it’s not flawless and I found some aspects annoying, but it’s reasonably entertaining all the same, and I would much rather have another tycoon game than another time management game in the world.
Gemcraft Zero. Gemcraft, Desktop Tower Defense, and Vector Tower Defense are my favorite TD games. Vector TD is simply very clean and tightly created. Desktop TD is cute and it gives the player control over maze layout, which changes the nature of the strategy challenge. And Gemcraft excels because it allows a very flexible variety of weapons creation and upgrading, along with strategies (move your weapons around to follow slow monsters!) that aren’t available in most TD games. Gemcraft Zero is better balanced overall than the original Gemcraft, where the first epic boss was way too hard for the player’s skill level and then difficulty tapered off into dullness by the end of the game. Zero offers a better distribution of difficulty, multiple “modes” in which to play each level, and some additional strategy elements that, by and large, I found entertaining rather than distracting.
All that said, there were (paradoxically) more hours of gameplay here than I wanted. Specifically, if you play, expect to do some grinding before approaching the “arcane guardian” boss levels. I would have enjoyed the challenge and variety offered by this game much more if there hadn’t also been so much mechanical effort.
Hint: invest in dual gem mastery.
Today I Die. I am glad people are doing this kind of short, evocative piece, which I think of as more interactive poetry than interactive storytelling. This said, I am awfully picky about my poems. One of my particular peeves about inferior poetry is the tendency to wallow in universals, going on about Love, Death, Him/Her, the Heart, Darkness, Silence, Screaming, Pain, etc. etc. etc., with no original thoughts and no command of language. Instead we’re meant to be moved by how *earnest* it is. But I’m not moved.
So, with interactive pieces that are trying to be emotionally evocative like poetry, I am picky in some of the same ways. Passage left me cold because its statements about life felt so banal that not even the novelty of a procedural presentation could save them. At least I Wish I Were the Moon (also by Daniel Benmergui) is memorably specific if very very strange. Today I Die… well, enh. The interaction is not great — one is meant to discover it naturally, but in fact I found (and so did others I talked to) that it is very easy to miss how you get things started in the game at all — and the content is on the flat side.
Virtual Families (briefly). Oh man, is this not for me. It’s like a version of the Sims that keeps all the stuff about making your people clean up their house and do boring chores that you hate in real life; but gets rid of all the stuff about being able to lay out the house in the first place.
Also, it’s one of those games where the world keeps going while you’re not playing, so any given session of play is kind of slow-paced, but on the other hand your little simulated person can get hungry and (I gather) die if you don’t come back and play every day.
Evidently there are people who really enjoy this kind of play, so more power to them; but I really prize games that deliver dense enjoyment or intellectual challenge and then, when they have run out of things to teach me, end. And the last thing I need in my life is another source of dull tasks that I can feel guilty about not doing. Somewhere on my hard drive a little red-shirted woman is sobbing her heart out — if she hasn’t already perished from my neglect.