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They Only Come Out At Night: Gridland

FACT: A Dark Room was one of last year’s most bemusing browser games. Initially, it seems like a survivalist-themed Cookie Clicker or Candy Box, a mouse-mauling series of numbers that rise toward the impossibility of infinity. Not so.

FACT: There are four hundred and six Match 3 games released every minute. They’re mostly released onto app stores rather than the wilds of the PC so you might not have seen all of them, but they’re out there. They’re mostly identical except for the manner of thing that must be matched – sometimes it’s gems, sometimes it’s fruits, very occasionally it is (probably) gonads.

FACT: Double Speak Games, developers of A Dark Room, have released a Match 3 game that is different to the rest. It’s called Gridland, it’s free and it will make your Thursday soar.

Collect, gather, harvest, build. There may not be any trees to punch but the resource collection and construction of a shelter are familiar, as are the creeps that emerge when night falls. They’re not late night revellers stumbling home from that one nightclub that you used to think was hip but they are an insidious bunch of reprobates. We’re talking zombies, giant rats and archers that may or may not be skeletal. It’s hard to tell when they’re made of just a few pixels each. The visual style does not easily distinguish between flesh and bone.

The brilliance of Gridland lies in the sense of progression. There’s always a bar to fill or a new resource to gather, a new enemy to summon or a new item to collect. Simple it may be but the machinery of the game is exquisitely tuned. The timing of each new reveal serves as a fine reminder that pacing is an integral part of games, and is too often used as a means to draw more coins into the slot rather than as a device for narrative or interplay between designer and player. See also Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing.

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Adam Smith

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