My series of browser game reviews continues with a quite current game – apparently it was published just a couple of days ago. I certainly wouldn’t have stumbled on it if I weren’t writing these reviews and doing background research for them.
Forever Samurai is a simple and beautiful side-scrolling fighting game from Pixelante Game Studios (AKA Evan Miller, not to be confused with Auntie Pixelante) that is set apart by an immaculate sense of style. The game is not very long, but it makes up for this with intense action and a suitably challenging difficulty level. I’m not an easy customer for action games, as they usually fail to reward me sufficiently to keep me invested, but the carry-over of experience points and gradual increase in my own skill of play keep me nicely with the game here.
The fundamental reason for why I find Forever Samurai so good is that its action model provides a good interface for enjoyable skill learning on the player’s part. This is far from given in action games, even if this is, it seems to me, a primary determinant in what makes a good action game. Forever Samurai does good in this regard, as the basic technique of slicing and dicing your enemies is easy to learn, allowing me to play facilely from the beginning. High-level success in the fighting system depends on interesting and learnable skills such as timing (attack to interrupt the enemy, withdraw from under their attack), positioning (use movement skills to avoid getting ganged upon and to get to position quickly to perform attacks) and observing the enemies (which have different behavioral modes and attack types). This might be positively compared to games in which success depends on rote memorization and execution of the challenge, as is the case with some platform action games, or games that reward grinding practice, good reflexes and attention to minor detail, as is the case with many fighting games. It’s not that these things could not be adjusted to be comfortably easy, it’s that some things are more fun to learn than others, so a game that works with player skill needs to focus on skill sets that are fun to learn and fun to execute. The fighting skill in Forever Samurai is both, gaining my approval.
Aside from the above general trait of the game’s design, I find other things to enjoy here as well:
- The game’s graphics are beautiful vector art, very mature and natural for the medium. I have grave misgivings towards the ugly age of computer graphics that was thrust upon us through the late ’90s, as polygon graphics took over from earlier bitmap art. This sort of 2d vector art has nothing in common with that; it rather preserves a natural relationship to the lineage of visual arts, instead of looking like something created technology first like polygon art inevitably does. I wouldn’t mind seeing games on more prestigious platforms made with these sorts of techniques.
- The game’s literary content is stylish; there are no excess explanations, the player doesn’t really know what is going on except for the fact that his samurai is hunting a huge red demon lion (or perhaps racing it to a destination?) that thrashed through his place in the introductory cutscene. On the way to the final confrontation with the lion (which tracks the player’s progress in the background art through the game) you get to duel with kappa, tengu and other mythological critters of Japanese folklore. Cool.
- I’ve rather come to enjoy this thing common to browser games where you get carryover benefits that open up new facets to the game when you play – something that is not quite a saved advanced position in a campaign, but rather minor advantages you can take with you from one game to the next. It goes well with short games you aren’t supposed to save, and it goes especially well with action titles where failure is constant. Here I don’t mind failing, as I still get xp and can use that to get a bit of an edge for the next time I try the game.
- The hardcore mode of the game has a logic that pleases me. It is always excellent if a game can work in extreme conditions where failure is frequent and the player is going to repeat stuff a lot. I seem to only play the hard difficulty levels in games I take seriously, and this is just such a case – I actually enjoy the one life mode with few mistakes allowed, it makes the combat in the game quite a rush.
All in all, definitely a game to recommend, even surprisingly good – I had no idea this sort of clarity and originality would happen in browser games when I started checking them out.
The Pixelante Mystery
I haven’t been too concerned with the creators behind these browser games I’ve been checking out, but Forever Samurai left me impressed enough to get a bit curious. This is good, because I discovered that the Pixelante guy (just a bit over 20 years old – we have reason to expect great things from him) has actually made other games – and they are almost as good as this one! Consider: Hunted Forever (as far as I know that repetition in the names is just a style element) is an original, minimalistic platform game with a tense atmosphere and the good, plastic control feel familiar from as far back as Prince of Persia. Towering Forever is a sidescrolling tower defense game with beat’em up elements, while Oozing Forever is a well-made high concept platformer with an amorphous blob on the center stage. (Falling Forever is a simple dexterity puzzle game – not bad, but not exceptional, either.) I don’t mind playing any of these, quality craftsmanship one and all – Hunted I’d even consider a game to recommend, just like Samurai; the duel of man and machine painted in it is inspiring, that’s all.
I find it rather promising that these Pixelante games show a clear trend towards excellence, improving in chronological order. They all display a good sense of multimedia representation and a clearly improving touch for the interactive action interfaces used by these games. The cultural content is good as well, the creator shows a good grasp of modern culture and an ability to create original art therein. Considering these points, I grow more curious: how viable is the browser game as a development platform for professional game creation? Furthermore: how come nobody in the Internet seems to be writing about browser game phenomena like Pixelante? I’ve yet to research the scene thoroughly, but I find it curious how little media there seems to be on this stuff, despite the browser being a major platform compared to many others. I‘ve had much more media exposure than this guy, it seems, even if his games get a thousand times more distribution and exposure if playcounts at the browser game aggregation sites are anything to go by. I feel my curiousity towards the community aspects of the browser game scene rising – is it that all the media is hiding inside the members-only portions of those large sites, and that’s why nobody seems to be discussing these games in the general Internet? Or is it that there’s just such an insane amount of these games out there that everybody has stopped discussing individual games and game studios long ago? Or doesn’t anybody consider this platform seriously enough to write about it? No idea.