I just finished watching The Mechanic with Jason Statham and Ben Foster, and I wish I could recommend it. I mean, it’s a decent enough flick if you’re into watching Statham be Statham, but it is certainly not a trip back to the glory days of the first Transporter movie. Ben Foster even makes the most of the sub-par material he’s given, and I can’t help but wonder why he isn’t a bigger star. His unhinged performance in 3:10 to Yuma stole the show and should have vaulted him to stardom all on its own. But I digress: The Mechanic suffers from a bad script, some occasionally-odd cinematography, and a rushed, unsatisfying ending. And the action is only so-so.
On the video game front, I’ve been playing the hell out of Zuma’s Revenge for the iPhone. It’s a PopCap game, so of course it’s addictive as hell. I even went back and tackled the challenge modes, which I hardly ever do in any game. It’s hard to imagine that a frog spitting croquet balls is a successful formula, but here we are. It’s simple, it’s colorful, the sound effects are satisfying, the power-ups are showy…it’s just plain fun. And the addition of boss battles and new power-ups does actually increase the fun from the first Zuma. If I were to say anything negative about the game it’s that it might be a little too easy, but I don’t really look for challenging gaming experiences on the iPhone.
A different iPhone game that gets the formula totally wrong is Lightopus. Like Zuma’s Revenge, it has colorful graphics and a great sense of style. The neon-psychedelic look is very eye-catching and impressive, and the gameplay seems – at first glance – very casual, almost relaxing. You pilot your lightopus around various bubbles or cells and release your friends, the “bulbies.” They follow you around and you need a certain number of them to be able to exit the level, but there’s a catch. The hostile creatures in the game – and there are many – can really only be killed by sacrificing bulbies. You can whack the enemies with your tail, but this generally only knocks them back and stuns them for a brief time. And the lightopus is a fragile, fragile thing. You get only five hit points before it’s Game Over, and there is a shocking lack of health power-ups. Bad controls and repetitive, unrewarding gameplay round-out a truly disappointing experience.
But there is a video game experience that cannot be missed, and that is Journey for the PS3. From the makers of Flower and flOw, this game is just as artistic and minimalist while behaving just a bit more like a traditional game. That said, there is no dialogue, no missions or objectives to speak of. Your journey is guided entirely by visual cues and slight hints early on. You guide a red-hooded figure through the beautifully-shifting sands of a desert, picking up scraps of magical cloth that allows you to fly for brief moments. Occasionally, another figure appears, and this is one of the twists of Journey. This other figure can be helpful or unhelpful, and you can be helpful or unhelpful in kind. The only way to “communicate” is through one-note “singing,” which is to say there isn’t really any way to communicate. And the interesting part of this is that this other figure is actually another anonymous player online somewhere, taking the same journey as you.
And despite the minimalist storytelling and presentation, the story resonates. You are essentially retracing the steps of a civilization that rose to great power and fell because of it, but even that seems secondary to your figure’s very-human need to keep going. With responsive, simple controls, amazing visuals, and an oddly-touching tale, Journey is a short game, but an unforgettable one.