Quirkiest Games: Tokyo Game Show 2014 Did Not Disappoint
You’re a rookie gaming reporter on-site at the Tokyo Game Show for the first time. But it’s a “public day,” and a Sunday at that. The excitement you felt putting on your first-ever press pass fades into frustration as you fight through bottlenecks as crowded as rush hour trains while struggling to keep your camera from getting tangled up in someone else’s. You look at the hour-plus wait times for the big-name games you’d like to try. Signs tell you there are no more tickets to try the Oculus Rift or Sony’s Project Morpheus. Your senses fail, overloaded by the gaudy, flashy displays for the big developers. At the last minute, you discover that Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 and Shinji Mikami’s Psycho Break (English title: The Darkness Within) were hidden at the back of Microsoft’s area all along. Overwhelmed doesn’t begin to describe it.
And so you long for something that stands out without relying on giant screens, that grabs attention without life sized inflatable monsters, that doesn’t need beautiful women in glorified swimsuits to catch your eye. And then you find them, little gems hidden in the cramped indies area and among the simple booths run by game design students. You find the quirkiest games of TGS.
Push Me Pull You
Fans of the old Dr. Dolittle books or the original movie will recognize this name. In the 1967 film, the “pushmi-pullyu” appears as a llama with heads at either end (don’t think too hard about how digestion works). In Australian developer House House’s simple indie title that borrows the name, the monstrosity you pilot is even sillier.
The version at TGS used a PS4 controller to move what appears to be two humans joined at the midsection like an inverted human centipede. According to the game’s website, it’s a “single elongated body.” Each thumbstick controls a head, and the shoulder buttons and triggers are used to grow or shrink the character. Two of these wormy “people” (4 heads in total, if you’re keeping count) compete in what looks like a sumo ring to keep a ball on their respective side.
Shrinking your noodly duo makes it stronger, but there’s more opportunity for your opponent to steal the ball. Alternatively, you can stretch out and wrap your character’s body around the ball to protect it, but with lower strength, you risk letting the other player shove everything, body and ball together, across the line.
Overall, the game has a slick presentation with a simplistic, flat-looking art style that echoes Katamari Damacy. The characters’ bodies wobble and bend like slinkies while their arms (8 all together, for those still interested) scramble to drag their unwieldy bodies around the court.
While the representative from House House said that they didn’t have much more planned than a little dressing up before the final build, the game really doesn’t need any more. Push Me Pull You is a backyard football kind of game--it’s less about winning or losing and more about the conversation and laughter you share while playing.
Twin Bou (ツインぼう)
This game is a student project from the Tokyo University of Technology’s School of Media Science using the Leap Motion gesture control device. Leap Motion can detect fingers and is usually used to emulate Minority Report’s famous UI on home computers. Rather than hands, though, Twin Bou’s creators, who go by Teku Teku, opted for chopsticks.
The game itself consists of fairly simplistic side-scrolling fare: dodge this adorable enemy, get beyond that obstacle, go right forever through the colorful world. However, instead of jumping a la Mario or shooting like Mega Man, you grab enemies with the chopsticks and set them behind your character, a little dog named Kotaro. To clear a broken bridge you pick up a rock with the chopsticks and then drop it in the gap. To move, you wave the chopsticks in a circle around Kotaro. Little glowing fairies on the screen show where you’re pointing.
Could you play the game with your fingers in the air? Sure. Could you skip Leap Motion and play the game with a mouse? Probably. But these clever students took a tired genre and made it something totally new by replacing the controller with an everyday tool. As technology advances, who knows what else could become controllers.
Baldy Beep! Beep! (はげピッ！ピッ！)
As it turns out, another student project has the answer: a supermarket barcode scanner! This game comes from students at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology and toys with Japanese word for comb overs, “barcode” hair (a far better name than “comb over,” to be honest). As the player, you take on the role of a supermarket employee working the cash register, but there’s a twist. This particular supermarket seems to specialize in selling middle-aged men with thinning hair and black suits.
On the screen, a shopping cart with three men rolls up to the register, each assigned a different price. To the left the game gives you a target number. Your job is to “scan” the right men to add up to the target. How do you scan them? Well, you simply bop a real barcode scanner on the corresponding dummy heads lined up below the screen. If you feel confident that you’ve hit the target, then you press a large plastic button. The cart then rolls off and another identical one takes its place. The goal is to scan through as many trios as possible before time runs out. At the end, your score slides down from the top of the screen in the form of a receipt. The math gets harder and harder, but the pure absurdity of what you’re doing keeps the game fun and lighthearted.
More on this title: Sorry, no web presence
Advertisement Adventure, a.k.a. Ado Ado (アドアド)
Finally, we return to indie titles with Ado Ado, an iOS game from Japanese developer Shiroenogu currently available on the App Store. Like the other games here, Ado Ado is fairly simple at a glance in terms of gameplay. It’s a basic “fall” game in which players navigate a character around an endless flow of rising platforms.
What sets Ado Ado apart, though, is that it may just be the most relatable game ever. Your character is a little arrow cursor with expressive googly eyes, arms, and legs, and the game world is a text-heavy website. The platforms that rise are website navigation buttons with words such as “sports” or “news.” In addition to falling off the screen, you can also get a game over by running into any of the banner ads or popups that fly up the screen faster than the platforms.
According to the representative, the game was inspired by the frustration that comes from having to navigate our ad-clogged Internet. If that’s not a problem that’s close to home for everyone online, I don’t know what is.
All four of these titles show us that simplicity in games is anything but a limiting factor, and that silliness should be embraced. They stand out not simply by being different but by being different in ways that were clearly developed with fun in mind. And you, the rookie reporter, come away feeling a cheerful sort of hope. You’ve found something special, something that all the people spending their days in lines for Bloodborne or The Phantom Pain might have missed out on. And you decide that maybe next year, you won’t mind missing the big titles so much--and besides, they’ve been all over YouTube and gaming sites and magazines for ages and will pop up again and again for months to come. Instead, you’ll know you want to go find out what weird characters, crazy controllers, or unique settings are waiting, unvisited, just for you.
AkihabaraNews contributor Greg Flynn is a Yokohama-based gaming, photography, and why-did-you-walk-so-far-across-Tokyo enthusiast. His interests range from chiptunes to chocolate chip cookies to inexpertly lobbing darts now and then.
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