Minimalism Done Right

Posted on October 10, 2010

Some of the most memorable titles in gaming are the ones developers strip down to the core. Even with simplistic control schemes and less emphasis on polygon counts, minimalistic games provide the type of experience that stick with you long after you put down the controller. Here are a few titles that master all that is minimalism.

Limbo
A young boy embarks on a short quest in search of his sister through a hazardous monochromatic world that leaves the players with more questions than answers. Playdead’s indie platformer takes a minimalistic approach with a simple control scheme, though the real challenge is the trial and error of avoiding gruesome deaths via multiple means of impalement. Limbo cranks up the creepy, instilling a fear of the unseen with noir style visuals leaving players in the dark. Lack of a formal soundtrack and mysterious ambient sounds further add to the tension. Though only a four-hour experience, most people would argue Limbo and its open-ended finale was just enough to resonate with them long after it was over.

Ico
Team Ico’s first creation is a prime example of minimalism done right. Easy to pick up and play, players take the role of a mysterious adolescent boy with horns as he guides a young girl across a world inhabited by shadows. Creator Fumito Ueda and Team Ico used a “subtracting design” approach to reduce gameplay elements to make way for the game’s setting and relationship development for maximum immersion. Gameplay focused on escaping a castle, enemies were simplified to shadows, the interface is clear of a HUD, dialogue was minimal, and the game concluded with a vague ending. Though not a commercial success upon release, we’re thrilled that Ico will make its return alongside spiritual successor Shadow of the Colossus in an HD reboot next year.

PixelJunk Eden
As the third game in the PixelJunk series, Q-Games released PixelJunk Eden, a visually impressive downloadable title on PSN that offers simple mechanics and minimalist house and techno music. With a focus on physics, players control a Grimp (taken from the words “grip” and “jump”) that must hop and swing its way across various plant life to activate seeds in order to progress. The combination of simple gameplay mechanics, striking visuals, and hypnotizing soundtrack make for a unique and peaceful experience.

Flower
In Flower, another PSN title involving plant life, thatgamecompany brings us a gaming experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Flower is a game that features no text or dialogue, but still carries on a light narrative through visual cues, striking emotion in a player by plucking away elements you would find in standard gameplay. Players bring color to a concrete jungle while navigating through dreams of individual potted plants on a windowsill. In these dream sequences, players control the wind and a stray flower petal with a few tilts of the PS3 controller causing dormant flowers to bloom along the way. Wind chime sounds harmonize with light music that dynamically changes along with the world. There’s no game over or time limits, just you engrossed in a sea of flower petals as you gradually make the world a better place.

Pac-Man
Chomping pellets while being chased by colorful ghosts will never get old. Speeding Pac-Man around grids and darting toward power pellets to fend off the opposition for more than 200 levels (not that anyone ever gets that far) is intense and entertaining all the same. This is a timeless concept that makes every playthrough as entertaining as the first.

Passage
A programmer named Jason Rohrer created a pixelated computer game that is roughly five minutes in length, but had enough of an impact to make grown men cry. In this memento mori game, players experience life from early adulthood through old age and death that offer a few choices along the way. I could spoil the whole thing here if you have yet to play it, but it’s well worth taking a few minutes to
try out for free. Then be sure to read the developer notes. It’s not every day that such a brief experience will cause you to think about the intricacies of life, but Rohrer’s project succeeded in doing so.

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