Gumboy: Love and Frustration

Can I just say how much I love this game? It seems like I’ve had to force myself, against my will, to make time for a lot of the games I’ve been sampling lately, even if the game is enjoyable once I’m playing it. Not so here. I’m so eager to play, I’m finding the time to get in a level or two in the morning before departing for work. I think the last time this happened was with DROD.

I think my reaction has a lot to do with the way that it just lets you play the game, without interrupting it with cutscenes or dialogue. I think of my recent experiences with Killer 7. There, a lot of the dialogue, particularly Iwazaru’s, was padded out with contentless verbiage: you’d press a button to talk to Iwazaru, and he’d say “Master!” (pause) “We’re in a tight spot!” (pause) “A very tight spot indeed! (pause)” and then he’d maybe say something important or maybe just babble nonsense at you. But I dared not skip any of it. So I suspect that when I went for a couple of days without playing, it was at least in part because a portion of my mind recoiled at the prospect of talking to Iwazaru any more.

I don’t think Gumboy will appeal to everyone the way it does to me. Some will be put off by the cutesy factor — I personally find it understated enough, and diluted with enough weird, that it doesn’t bother me. Some will dislike the gameplay. The more difficult levels produce a golf-like frustration, where you know where you have to go but can’t manage it because you can’t put just the right amount of spin on the ball or whatever. There’s a vicious cycle there: frustration breeds impatience, and impatience makes you drive Gumboy around too fast and fail even harder. This is why it’s so important that the game is so fundamentally calm.

But it’s also worth noting that the frustration and impatience produced by Gumboy‘s difficulty is of a different kind than that produced by Iwazaru’s longwindedness. The one is imposed on you by the author. The other is a consequence of the player’s actions, and therefore can be overcome. Some of the pleasure of the game comes from exactly that: the relief of overcoming frustration. This is why I prefer Gumboy‘s brand of frustration to Iwazaru’s, even though the former can actually block your progress in a game and the latter can’t.

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