From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Balance, Balance, Keep Your Balance

So I’m always on the lookout for new games. As a gamer, I have a fairly broad set of tastes and I like to have a handful of titles with “potential” on hand for those free moments when I can really get my game on, so to speak. I mean, there are those games you *know* you’re going to like, prequels or sequels, games with the name of a studio or a legendary designer attached that promise a very clearly defined sort of entertainment. Those are good, I mean, I *like* going into my local game retailer, pulling something off the shelf, asking the twenty-sumpin’ behind the counter about it and getting on my way, secure in the knowledge that my money was well spent. But for my smaller consoles I like to take risks. I like to drop a dollar here or five dollars there on stuff I’ve never heard of, so a little exploratory shopping to see things (hopefully) that I haven’t seen before. This time, I think I struck gold.

“Stay” by Anthropophagy is one of those titles. Honestly, I don’t even remember how I found it, it might have been browsing through the App store, or a recommendation from one of the blogs I frequent. Come to think of it, it’s built using the Unity Engine, which I am fairly familiar with, so that may be how it came across my path. I know I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just something intriguing. Something almost buried in the torrent of bad hangman and cooking game knockoffs piqued my curiosity.

At first glance, Stay is a pretty simple concept. You fire up the game on “easy” and get a very basic setup, a virtual teeter-totter with a plain pink triangle in the center (the higher levels give you a star-shape and a circle, with obvious increases in difficulty). Your goal is to keep that little triangle on the teeter-totter. Nothing major. You don’t even have to keep it in the *center* of the teeter-totter. Seems easy enough, right? Basic balance stuff, you learned this in preschool, right? Thing is, “Stay” is about as much of a balance game as “Braid” is a platformer. Sure that’s the basic high concept, but the designers took it, shoved it in a blender set of frappe and dished out something that resembles the original concept in name only.

Stay offers you a range of things to drop onto the ends of your teeter-totter, plain cube shaped blocks (the basic block), blocks that turn everything in their area of effect (AOE to you WOW players) small, blocks that pop open into double-sized versions of themselves, the longer you play, the more varied the selection. The catch is, you don’t get to choose which one comes next. There’s a little box in the upper-left corner that shows you what’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do but plan your attack. The cold equations of computer-generated random assignation, however, have absolutely no consideration for the plight of the gamer, hurriedly jabbing the touchscreen in an attempt to get that teeter-totter back to a point of equilibrium.

It’s not as easy as it looks.

The key point to this game is inertia. The blocks, when they drop, simulate the kinds of floaty rigidbody physics that were all the rage in AAA games about 10 years ago now (that’s a compliment, by the way, having pretty physics on something as small as an iPhone is way l33t). So the boxes bounce when they hit one another, knock one another off the beam, there are reactionary physics all over the place and dropping the wrong block on the wrong side can cause a cascade effect that will slide your happy little pink block off into oblivion.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the “survival” mode as well. In this variant of the game, you get to drop all the blocks you want, but instead of keeping a little pink shape on the beam, you are trying to keep it simply from tipping too far to the left or right. Go to far and you lose points off your life-meter. Spend too long off-balance and whoosh, that little meter runs out in no time flat.

The visuals here are fairly unique on the iPhone. The vast majority of the games have gone the bright-colored, high-contrast look that has been so prevalent in Flash based games and mobile titles for the past five years or so. Stay has gome with something more artistic feeling, an almost colored-pencil on sketch-paper feel to the visuals that give it a very solid, very professional 2d feel. The tutorials are simple, the game is challenging, and the game designer is taking full advantage of the idea that mobile phone games are best delivered in bite-sized chunks. The sound is clever, just interesting enough to distract us, not so boring and repetitive that we fail to hear it altogether and most importantly it’s techno-jazziness fits the visuals well.

No ratings here, but if you’ve got an iPhone, this is a must-add to your collection. Since it’s been built with Unity, and that engine goes fairly readily across platforms, I suspect we will see a web-version of it soon, possibly even XBLA if the guy over at Anthropophagy gets the interest he deserves.

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