Amidst the biggest releases of the year and the torrent of indie game development, you’d think a likely game of the year of most would be Halo 4, Mass Effect 3, Journey, or The Walking Dead. Indeed, it’s definitely the indie game development, not necessarily the blockbuster, that came to the front of many of today’s minds. Mobile gaming – that’s so 2011, or 2010. It has become as commonly accepted as GPS and internet in phones or touch screens. But even if everyone and their grandmother likes to occasionally Draw Something, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any more room for gems in the mobile market.
I’ve found a genuinely satisfying mobile experience in one mobile game in particular this year: Punch Quest for iOS.
Punch Quest is a strange hybrid to explain. It’s one of those infinite run games, a’la Temple Run, but the running is entirely 2D, leaving the obstacles secondary. Guess what the main function of the game is: it’s punching through skeletons, bats, wraiths, and other hellish hordes while hoarding absurd amounts of treasure.
Perhaps you can stop reading there, for that may qualify as enough information for most mobile games out there: why not pop in a dollar and give it a go? If you’re not convinced yet or are curious as to why this makes my game of the year, read on.
In simple words: great game design. Punch Quest calls back to the 16-bit era goodness, the scroller-brawlers, yet it simplifies the gameplay enough to make it manageable on a touchscreen, portable. On the surface, there’s no stopping from mashing punches and beating everything, but the system rewards strategic punching. By adequately pulling the punches, enemies can be pushed into each other before dying completely: skulls fly like baseballs, and torches spearhead the charge, whole ghouls carpet the road. Proper technique results in a combo chain, and, well, looks damn fun, creating a barrage of flying enemies. The punches are even stronger if they are done in a specific rhythm, a somewhat-secret technique because it’s not that visually apparent.
That’s only one of many secrets embedded in the game. Its mysterious nature is like another homage to NES and SNES games, where little, hard-to-find secrets pervade the world, unbeknownst to most. Gnomey, the quirky guide who inexplicably offers advice at the end of the every run, says things such as “THE WELL OF WISHES HIDES IN THE CRYPT OF DECAY” and “I got a ‘level up,’ but is it enough to defeat King Slug??” I’m not sure (yet) how much of his advice makes sense or whether there is a hidden horse mode. In any case, there is a slew of secrets and hard work that rewards the player, which is a refreshing change amidst the socialite gaming fever of Zynga games and newer phenomena like Fun Run. Punch Quest is simply an iOS game that I wanted to play even when I wasn’t commuting, and that’s saying quite a lot these days.
Perhaps it doesn’t hold a candle to many of this year’s titles in terms of grandeur. While the bigger and indie productions have their merit, this small, mobile production packs the promised punch. And this is all a game really needs to be great, and whether it’s their game of the year, is anyone’s personal call.