November 4th, 2008
Being smaller, less riskier endeavors, indie games often surprise us with humorous jabs at the medium itself, because they can. Some of these games push mild insights into the developers opinion, others base themselves solely around the art of parody. Merry Gear Solid does the latter.
Merry Gear Solid as the name suggests is a Christmas themed parody of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Likening itself to the classic 2D Metal Gear games, Merry Gear Solid plays like a small, half hour episode from the series, wrapped in the Christmas décor. You, Solid Santa must infiltrate a house full of children to plant your presents under the Christmas tree. Along the way you will obtain a series of items, all throwbacks to the series mainstays which allow you to progress through the cleverly designed household
It’s very surprising to see just how much care has been taken in developing this title. The sprites and animations all look perfect and would fit in nicely with the Pokemon games. The writing is superb and consistently strong with clever puns and jabs at series staples as well as Christmas culture. The level designs are also excellent and utilize multiple strings of problem solving. The whole package is just top notch and it maintained my interest for the whole pay session. With this game as a template, I think that the potential of an independent installment of the series could easily be done, that I would love to see.
Having developed educational software for children before I can understand the challenge involved in designing a game for this market. The trick is trying to keep the accessibility and difficulty in equilibrium so that the child can grasp the concept of the game easily and then remained engaged for the length of the experience. This means thinking hard about how to introduce the game, what language to use, how to layout the menus, when to provide tips, when to let the child explore on their own, when to throw some education at them etc. This is a tough job to keep up. Magical Toy Chest by Graduate Games in this regard fairs quite well, probably about as well as I did, although that is obviously biased.
Magic Toy Quest is another one of those popular physics based games which require you to orientate objects in a 2D environment to see what happens when you set everything off. These games make you feel like the king of your own small world, self-indulgently lining up dominos and watching them fall over.
I started off talking about educational games and indeed Magical Toy Chest is one of those. What I most like about the game is how it implements the learning elements. In order to get the toys into the chest you need to first set up a path for the target toy (the toy that you want to get into the box) to travel. This requires placing set pieces (other toys as selected from a side menu) in the environment and then using another toy (yeah it’s all toys!) to nudge the target toy into the right direction. This all amounts to a lot of problem solving and experimentation all of which become pretty engaging.
The game is intended to represent cleaning up your room but feels more like having fun considering that you need to use have to get more toys out to knock the more into the box.
In fact the idea of cleaning your room by creating more mess is contradictory. You’ll occasionally need to start by picking up the keys in the environment to open the chest, despite this you can’t just pick up the toys and put them in the box. Overall it isn’t very organic game design and I found it to form an initial hindrance.
Once you get over these things then the game starts to kick into its own and becomes really quite enjoyable. There are a few hitches like this, mainly to do with those issues of balancing to the audience but at it’s core Magic Toy Quest is fun, and has plenty to offer. It’s hard not to recommend this title as it excels in most areas.