From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Game Review: Godling In Your Pocket

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, one of these reviews was going to cover a cell-phone game. The hand-held devices are rapidly charging closer and closer to the ubiquitous “all-in-one” doohickey (yep, “doohickey is a technical term… really) that everyone who has embraced technology is looking for. As a gaming platform, it certainly has its advantages, particularly when it comes to drawing in the “casual” gamer crowd. So perhaps it is no surprise, then, that an easily accessible, updateable title like “Pocket God” is rapidly becoming a runaway success.

“Pocket God” is one of the latest and strongest entries into the massive gamefest that is rapidly taking over the iPhone app store. This little gem is what is usually referred to as a “sandbox” game. There’s no real *win* solution, there’s no real end to the game, as long as you are having fun, it’s all good.

In the case of “Pocket God” you are initially presented with a small island in the middle of the sea. No instructions, no detailed play screen. Just an island with a couple things on it and a cute little guy in a loincloth and a topknot. So what’s the first thing you do? This is the iPhone, after all, touch operated device, so you poke the little guy. As is to be expected, I suppose, when one is poked by a fingertip fully the size of ones’ head, the bobbleheaded islander protests loudly and falls down. All of this, of course, is an invitation to poke something else, to dance your fingertips across the screen and wreak the kind of mayhem that only the truly divine are capable of.

The trick with a sandbox game of this stripe is balance. You need to have just enough clear and immediate feedback to keep the player interested in finding out more. Equally important, you need to have a good store of secrets and hidden elements for the player as well. Things that are not so hard to find that they become urban legend, but not so easy that they don’t register as “special” when the player finally figures them out.

One thing to remember when playing this (and any other game for that matter) is that everything *does* something. Game Designers don’t just chuck stuff in there because they were having a slow weekend. There is time, money and pre-planning involved for almost every single in-game element you see. So if you have a hard time figuring out what some little piece of decoration *does*, don’t be afraid to get creative, to try something new and strange (like using the giant magnifying glass to set the statue on fire instead of the giant, native-eating ants).

From the pop-open menu at the top of the screen, you can choose what island to visit, you can change the weather, add-in or remove world elements or hazards. You hold the power of life or entertaining, occasionally explosive, death at the tip of your finger and, like any true omnipotent deity, don’t need to worry about the sorts of petty “game-over” type consequences that mere mortal game players must concern themselves with.

One of the key elements that sets Pocket God apart from the other games in this genre is that it is, in it’s own way, an “Episodic” product (as of this writing, it is up to Episode 23). In Pocket God terms, this means that, on a regular basis, there is something new available for the world, and in true, entrepreneurial fashion, they make it extremely easy to update their little app from the game store. Sometimes it is a new functionality for an existing element, sometimes it is a new element (like, say, a T-Rex) altogether. This constant curiosity about “what comes next” plus the ease of remembering and getting your hands on anything new, has put given this little app unusual longevity when it comes to titles of the mobile stripe.

In particular, the game is missing the usual run of glitches and lack of depth that is so often the hallmark of independent productions. Pocket God is extremely well polished, the graphics are delightful, the actions and interactions between the player and the world are well considered and well designed. Again, I’m not much of a “score” person, but if you have an iPhone, then this little gem is an absolute must-have game.

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