Recommending casual games

I thought that I was finished with my series of browser game reviews, but perhaps I’ll do one more yet.

“Skill games” are the genre that to me seems like the linchpin of the popularity of browser games in general. They are the perfect casual games, and always have been, long before browser games existed and the genre flourished in arcades and home computers. The casualness is well affirmed by the uncaring attitude that gamers tend to have towards these games; I myself almost didn’t notice that I should actually write a bit about these games as well if I’m supposed to be reviewing the browser game media in general. Considering how much I’ve been playing these games while trawling through the browser game selection, it only makes sense to highlight some of the ones I’ve returned to several times.

As a somewhat arbitrary move I’m going to recommend Dolphin Olympics 2 and Fly Me to the Moon, two fine skill games I’ve stumbled upon during the last couple of weeks. (I think Markku recommended them to me or something.) This move is arbitrary in that there are quite many titles in this genre, and I have made no point at all of studying the width of possibilities out there. It’s enough to note here that I find both of the above titles to have good craftsmanship, as well as the most important quality of the genre: the basic skill activity in the game is fun. I already wrote about this design precept a bit in my Forever Samurai review earlier, but it bears repeating as an analytical explanation of game quality: a good skill game, casual or not, presents as its core activity a skill set that is fun and enjoyable to practice and improve. Otherwise the game cannot be helped.

This is not to say that either of these games is quite perfect in what they do. Setting aside the hardcore requirement for game depth, I still find Dolphin Olympics annoying in how it sets point scoring as the core goal when jumping as high as possible is actually a much more interesting and relaxed challenge. In general it seems to me that this genre suffers from the so called “community aspect” quite a lot – the game just has to have a scoring method, usually a most nitpicky one, and it has to push the opportunity of adding your score to a high score list at all junctures. I don’t quite know what the designers imagine me to be thinking – surely they don’t think that I have the time to compete in every minor pastime on an international level, especially when the game’s central activity itself doesn’t often seem to be concerned with point-scoring at all. Fly Me to the Moon does have a minor use for points scored within the framework of the game itself, but it’s still clearly minor.

Skill games vs. puzzle games

An interesting question raises its head in that puzzle games are quite successful as browser games, too. They’re another very casual genre, similar in many ways to skill games. Notably many puzzle games in browser games are so called “physics puzzles” that replace exact rules with a physical model and allow the player freedom to solve the puzzles in any way they see fit within the physical model – Incredible Machine is the model here. These games often require a modicum of dexterity and speed, blurring the line between skill and puzzle games to a degree.

I don’t particularly recommend puzzle games as a browser game genre, interestingly enough. While skill games can be enjoyable for the simple core activity they offer, browser puzzle games seem to mostly follow an insipid item interaction puzzle model, which is one I’ve never been too fond of. The best titles of the genre like Saunavihta or Red Remover are not exactly bad, but playing them is a strictly routine thing with little in the way of insight in the play process. Maybe I’m just playing too easy games or something. Or it’s just that even my level of casualness has its limits.

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