“bob’s game” playable demo – Impressions

For months on end emotions ran high in one man’s quest to see his masterpiece video game to publication.  As a carefully planned viral campaign raged on, true rage grew among the onlookers – who did this guy think he was?  What egotistical madman would face-off against the largest video game company in the world, claiming the power to destroy them with the self-proclaimed “greatest game ever made?” The answer both is and is not Robert “bob” Pelloni.  As bobsgame.com revealed itself as a viral ad for Pelloni’s “game by one person,” most onlookers realized that the “bob” they had loved to hate was nothing more than a character.  Despite this, many still vented their frustration, harshly judging a game that nobody had ever played.

Those who hold a grudge against the previously unseen “bob’s game” might want to brace for reality: early this morning Robert Pelloni released the first playable demo of “bob’s game” – and it shows a lot of promise.

“bob’s game” is a homage to gaming – as a hobby, as a culture, and as an industry.  It almost feels as if it is as much as love story about growing up with Nintendo as it is a regular game – and if Pelloni’s viral advertisement is any indication, it’s a love story wrought with romance, tragedy, betrayal, sorrow, pain, and just maybe reconciliation.  Perhaps it’s too early to make even this judgment, but playing the demo certainly trudges up strong feelings of nostalgia.  The easiest way to describe it is as a mash up between adventure RPG style games and “Retro Game Challenge.”

The player takes on the role of “Yuu,” a young teenage boy who has recently moved to a new neighborhood with his family.  The first task in the demo is to “find batteries,” which introduces the player to the basic mechanics of the “adventure” portion of the game.  After solving a simple puzzle, Yuu delivers the batteries to his mother who uses them to power a Gantendo “Gametoy,” which she gives to Yuu in hopes he can use it to play games with, and make friends with, the neighbor kid.

Much as Yuu’s mother introduces the adventure world, the neighbor kid introduces the “game” world.  Here, the player is introduced to “Tetrid,” and as the name implies it’s a Tetris inspired game – but don’t let the name fool you.  Yes, it’s a falling bricks game, and yes as you make solid lines, they disappear and give the player points – but you aren’t playing with standard tetras.  In Tetrid, it’s as if each “Tetris Shape” is missing a vital block – making most “Tetris Tactics” useless.  A few other subtle game mechanics are changed as well, creating a game that looks and feels familiar, but is actually a very different game.  It feels solid, realistic – as if it really could have existed as a classic “gameboy” game, but simply flew under the radar.  Much like a “real” game there are tricks and tactics you have to teach yourself along the way, and even then it can be frustratingly difficult.

It’s hard to fairly judge a game based on an image, an ad, or a short demo such as this.  What I can say is that “bob’s game” has the foundation of a great game.  The adventure engine is intuitive and entertaining – with silly characters, promising interactions, and more than enough gamer “in-jokes” to get a chuckle out of a veteran Nintendo fan.  The setting is reminiscent of many of our own childhoods – quarreling with brothers, dealing with over protective mothers, making friends, and playing video games.  This pleasant and interactive overworld provides a fine frame for pseudo-retro gaming – Tetrid proves itself to be a challenging and accurate Tetris replacement, and Pelloni has stated elsewhere that “bob’s game” contains many other full sized games, including a platformer reportedly as large as “Cave Story.”  The melded game styles seem complimentary – and it has the potential to do something few games really can: tell a story that would be impossible to tell effectively in any other medium.  “bob’s game” is the story about the game industry from a gamers perspective – and I can think of no better way to tell that story than through a game that makes you play the games that gave that character that perspective.

The fact that “bob’s game” is a game within “bob’s game” showcased by viral ad known as “bob’s game” makes it pretty difficult to explain the demo itself.  Luckily, the demo is free and can be found at the bob’s game website – it can be played via emulator or DS FlashCart – see bobsgame.com or Google for more details on what that means.  The demo left me feeling quite good about the game – if the full version maintains the humor, fun, and mini game quality I found in the demo I could easily see myself purchasing a title like this if it were available in stores – although “bob’s game” may still not see retail release.  The demo jokes that it will “probably never” be licensed by Nintendo, and Pelloni himself seemed unsure the games’ “commercial” future to me during an interview last week at GDC.  Go try the demo and judge for yourself – if it peaks your interest as it did mine, let us know – and Infendo will follow up with an exclusive “bob’s game” interview, where the surprisingly soft spoken Robert Pelloni tells about his hopes, plans for the future, and thoughts on Nintendo’s future role in the world of independent game design.

Want to share your own thoughts on the demo? Are you just plain  sick to death of “bob’s game?” Head on down to the comments and share it with us!