This week, we’re covering some games made for last weekend’s Ludum Dare 19, a game development competition wherein contestants try to make a video game from scratch in 48 hours. LD 19′s theme was “Discovery.”
Alright, I’m gonna try to write this while using the word “cute” as few times as possible. Phew. Here goes:
dis_covery is a cute little whack-a-mole game by Chinese developer jagttt. The premise is straightforward enough: you’re a cute little pixelated dude with a mallet. Your goal is to smash these cute little creatures that pop up, but they’re hidden under manhole covers. The controls are even simpler than they sound: you use the arrow keys to move around, Z to flip up manhole covers, and X to smash with the hammer. There’s a constantly draining meter, but smashing creatures fills your meter back up. The whole thing is very arcadey, very Game & Watch, and very….cute.
What makes dis_covery so compelling is the way jagttt rolls out a new gameplay mechanic every level. It starts out simple enough: when the manhole covers wobble, you flip them up and smash the dudes underneath. But as the game begins throwing new stuff at you such as bombs, switches and clouds that move upward, things get a lot more sophisticated.
The order the new enemies are rolled out in is actually extremely clever, as your relationship with past enemies tends to change as new ones get added. For example, when bombs get added in in Level 2, they’re kind of an annoying distraction: accidentally hit one, and you’re blown into the air for a second or two, helpless to do anything but watch your meter drain. But when Level 3 hits, flying enemies who can only be reached by deliberately blowing up bombs get added to the mix, and suddenly, the bombs are your best friend.
Here, I’ll give you one more example: there’s a switch late in the game that begins to appear that flips up all the manhole covers at once. Sounds awesome, right? You can just run through and smash everyone all at once. And it is awesome – at first. Eventually, the game transitions to all flying enemies, and bombs become a truly crucial part of the gameplay. But when a bomb gets flipped over, it blows up within about half a second, and by flipping all the manhole covers, you blow up all the bombs and have no way to get into the air and kill dudes. Suddenly, the manhole switch has become your worst enemy.
The game is pretty brief, and you’ll have seen most of what there is to see well within ten minutes. But you know what? It may be small in scope, but it’s polished, fun, and feels utterly complete. Docky recently pointed out on Twitter how absolutely crucial it is to reign yourself in during Ludum Dares and not bite off more than you can chew, and dis_covery makes a pretty compelling argument for the K.I.S.S. approach.