Gemcraft series (but mostly Chasing Shadows)

So, I’ve played a bunch of hidden object games this season. And I’ve played a whole lot of Train Valley 2. But the main thing I’ve played, the biggest constant throughout the pandemic, has been Gemcraft 1Officially, the title is capitalized as “GemCraft”, but I find that less pleasing, ambiguous in how to pronounce it properly. Besides, I called it “Gemcraft” in all my previous posts, so why stop now?. And when I say Gemcraft, I mean all of it. The near-simultaneous releases of a new Gemcraft sequel and a couple of standalone Flash players with bundled games in response to the long-awaited Death of Flash on the web spurred me to try to actually play every game in the series to the end for the first time. This experience has played the same role in my life this year that Creeper World 3 did a couple years back.

I’ve written a few posts before about the fourth Gemcraft game, Gemcraft Chapter 2: Chasing Shadows. The fact that the fourth game is labeled “2” is a little peculiar, but not unprecedented. To recap, it’s a series of wizard-themed tower defense games based around two innovations: the ability to move your weapons around from tower to tower, and press-your-luck gameplay where you can make levels more difficult for greater reward, both before starting the level and while playing it. Once you’ve leveled up a little from the beginning, the only reason you ever fail is overconfidence. Right now, literally between starting this post and finishing it, I’ve played to the ending of Chasing Shadows. This was quite unexpected. A conspicuous gap in the overworld map made me think that I had some way to go yet, but that gap only fills in on victory. It looks like it may be the setting for Chapter 3.

The other chief thing of note about these games is that they’re long. Far longer than is comfortable for my normal binge play-style. They’re really meant to be played a bit at a time over a long period, but even then, you’re going to level up to the point where the challenge is gone long before you reach the end. This is part of how the game tempts you to turn up the difficulty. But it’s also part of the appeal when you’re in a certain state of mind. If I’ve found myself playing Train Valley 2 a lot lately, it’s because it offers a fantasy of control, of making plans and executing them. Gemcraft offers a fantasy of mastery, of not having to put in the effort you once did. Of waving away even the most absurdly overpowered attackers.

It also offers to contradict that. After you win a level, you can keep on going in “Endurance Mode”, where it just keeps on sending enemies in increasing numbers until they finally overwhelm you. Endurance Mode is one of the keys to gaining XP fast, and gaining XP fast is also one of the game’s great joys. When you’re powerful enough, you don’t just work towards gaining levels one at a time, you get dozens at once, the XP bar at the main screen swiftly filling repeatedly, the ding turning into a jingle.

Chara would love this game.

And it seems to know that. The story underlying the series is one of repeatedly being morally compromised, of being tricked into doing the work of demons. The second game, Chapter 0: Gem of Eternity, has you playing the character who will become the antagonist of the first.

I’ll have more to say about Chasing Shadows tomorrow. I may have won, but I’m not done with it yet.

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1. Officially, the title is capitalized as “GemCraft”, but I find that less pleasing, ambiguous in how to pronounce it properly. Besides, I called it “Gemcraft” in all my previous posts, so why stop now?

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