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Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 24

As gamers, it's understood that we usually sit down at our monitors, TV's, controllers, mice and keyboards looking for a challenge.  We want to finish the level; conquer our neighbor; beat the boss; kill the bad guy; win the race; collect all the Pokemans; hit the level cap.

Video games have trained us to do these things from their earliest incarnation, and certainly many of the titles featured in Free and Worth Every Penny - especially recently - have been pretty challenging affairs.  Between the frantic pace of RunMan and Igneous, the kill-or-be-killed Darwinism of Captain Forever, and the 8-bit punishment of Star Guard, I feel like maybe we all need to take five.

So let's relax.  Sometimes all you want to do is be an elephant gardener, you know?  ...Maybe you don't know.  That's okay, that's why I'm here.

We've got another Digipen release for you this week, though compared to our last selection from them, it's a horse of a different color.  Or rather, an elephant of many different colors.

Once upon a solemn day,
Rosie the elephant awoke in dismay.
Stumbling up from the cold barren ground,
She rubbed her eyes and peered all around.

Standing small, just ahead,
A tiny tree stood—not quite dead.
With nothing but raindrops and seeds at hand,
Young Rosie set out to bring life back to the land.

Kabloom presents the player (and Rosie) with a desolate wasteland, several barren islands floating in the sky, strung together by platforms and bridges.  Only a tiny tree sits in the center of the largest island, and a single drop of water falls to terra firma, this strange and lonely land's last hope.

Using a basic but effective physics engine and some very straightforward controls, Rosie is tasked with turning this barren landscape into a teeming paradise of the player's design.  Blowing water drops into trees causes them to grow; a large enough tree will drop a seed.  Take the seed wherever you like and plant it, and a sapling sprouts, waiting to be watered so the cycle can repeat.  Before long, empty dirt is replaced by waving grass and flowers, and majestic trees begin to produce fruit, the acquisition of which is the game's only tangible goal.

Now, to be honest, there isn't a whole lot to do aside from the mild exploration and the creativity of filling in the space, so it's a good thing that it's over pretty much whenever you want it to be.  Collect one of each type of fruit, and you're done; this can take an hour or 10 minutes depending on how long you want to mess around.  (A warning: the moment you've collected all the fruit, the game ends, so avoid doing that if you want to keep planting new trees.)

There isn't much else to say, really.  Kabloom feels a bit like the FLUDD levels of Mario Sunshine, if only because of the spraying mechanic and the fact that you're taking something ugly and making it prettier, but the simpler, more accurate analogy is probably that of a coloring book: you are given a blank space, and you fill it with color as you see fit.  It isn't demanding, isn't frustrating, isn't particularly goal-oriented.  I played through the game twice, once very quickly and then again to make sure I'd seen everything, and while I probably won't go back I was glad for the experience.  The five-man "Death of Games" team from Digipen clearly had free-form, player-directed gameplay as their design edict, but it is a shame their sandbox doesn't have more toys in it.

Kabloom is unquestionably a casual game, a short zenlike experiment of a title, and you could easily make the argument that it's more for your little sister or brother than for you, but I found it unique and enjoyable enough to share.  This is neither a deep nor a difficult game, but it is a pleasant one.  Sometimes I think that's good enough.

Kabloom is:

  • charming and whimsical.
  • leisurely paced.
  • creatively engaging.
  • over quickly, which would make me sad... if there were more there.

Kabloom is an 80MB download for Windows PC's - go check it out here.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece also appears there.

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