The existence of casual gaming has experienced a shift from some of the older, more established games such as Pong and Tetris that are defined now as casual games to the more modern, updated versions fully playable on any portable device, of which are of infinite varieties. Pong is a simple game revolving around a simple table tennis premise, easy enough for the least cultured person in town. A computerized white dot bounces across a screen and players on opposing sides take control of blocks to send the dot into the goals on the other side representing what the other player is trying to protect. It’s an easy premise and yet superficially bare as far as games go. Other more complex games would forge ahead to define what makes a game casual and does that differentiate with “hardcore” games?
The first games were simple and as games began to differentiate in depth, these grandfather games seemed to pale in comparison when placed next to others in terms of depth. With the advent of new technologies and consoles, casual games have experienced a few trends in the years since those very first games and those trends are definitely shaping the casual gaming trends of the future.
Casual games usually revolve around a simple premise. Fit shapes into a space to assemble a simple puzzle. Use a joystick to guide a frog across a space and make sure he does not die from vehicular manslaughter. Aid a sack of meat to escape inventive and innovative torture chamber deaths (many deaths). Compilations such as the ingenious Brain Age take the advent of casual gaming and combine the accessibility of an easy layout and add a cognitive learning component and this this alone was enough to convert a few people to playing games, even my own grandmother got her own little DS with the help of a few other relatives.
Portable devices offer perfect ways to escape into casual gaming. A little on the go action diverts people who are thrust into long lines at Starbucks or at the store. It can be interesting to wait around while in line just to see if anyone will pull out a Vita and start dying agonizing death after agonizing death in Super Meat Boy. It’s interesting to see young children and old people alike engaging in an increasingly common activity. A well-marketed casual game can be enough to convince virtually anyone to have a go at gaming and in this way accessibility should be a key factor developers should be concerned with to communicate with their intended target audience.
As games began to increase in popularity gaming franchises came into being that are light on mechanics but structurally complex sit-down-at-home-games like Ratchet and Clank, Crash, Spyro, and Jak and Daxter. It helps some of these games is geared to a younger audience and developers like Insomniac aiming for the younger gamers generally do not douse their games in mechanics to learn and master.
Cell phones kind of thrust the prospect of gaming on anyone with a phone bombarding them with ads regardless if they are a gamer or not become gamer later on that had no idea they were hiding in the gaming closet for so long. It’s like they had found a new way to scratch away that unpleasant itch. Such games have been known to be “prescribed” to people with a behavioral diagnoses such as ADHD.
The classic casual gamer can be described as virtually anyone with a low attention span. Any short game bent on entrancing the gamer with a set of bold mechanics that can be capable of sustaining short but exciting and ultimately satisfying bouts of gameplay. Some are drawn just because they like having games available on the go as well as home. These guys are most likely hardcore gamers at heart.
What is it that draws gamers to contemplate casual games? What mechanics are involved? A first impression is key to games that have to strive to be immediately appealing enough even to sustain a moment of satiated attention. Flashy menus are a must for one, especially when constant management of inventories is required. Eye catching border patters and animated character cartoons bring the former flat lines encircling gameplay space to life
The evolution of gaming led to simple gameplay mechanics introduced in the eighties that hold up today like Mario a that still resonates today. Traditional platformers are immediately accessible if controlling a character takes a few button presses to create a surface for the player to latch on to.
It is possible the true potential of casual games has yet to be revealed. With the advancement of technology and the subsequent lessening of attention spans of some gamers and those that are newcomers to gaming. It’s a fact that the industry must adjust in order to survive and profit. The average attention span is eight seconds. Now developers must investigate a relatively new and uncharted avenue by drawing inspiration
A Note on Microtransations
The bane of “free-to-play” games are microtransatctions. Microtransactions are an unfortunately reality of owning a cell phone, a dark reality that is not so micro are the implements used by so-called “free-to-play” games. These games throw the gamer an initial hook like the premise to unlock Pokemon in the cell phone game Pokemon Shuffle. The time spent to play and unlock the Pokemon occurs at a fixed slow rate that could be sped up if players offer up some of their cold hard cash therefore blurring the line of what “free-to-play” could mean to some.
Pokemon Shuffle is not alone in a deluge of games like “Dragon Ball, Dokken Battle” that dish out in game currency that is a lame currency that translates to cold, hard cash in the real world. In order to properly advance in games such as these, a massive percentage of the gamers’ wallet is required and if utilized heavily during moments of cycling through menus and gameplay can be a massive annoyance. These options are a tantalizing distraction the game dangles in front of you as the progress inches ever so slowly, a problem that can be remedied for horrible fees. Perhaps this is a sign that I am cheap or perhaps I am put off by such shallow cash mongering. These problems extend to the whole gaming market at large as developers such as EA and Ubisoft pick players’ pockets.
The graphics have to be eye catching for these things and usually they are, since these games hinge on those with short attention spans. Otherwise I don’t see gamers being interested in these games other than some sort of blatant and shameless fan service that leads to empty pockets for those wanting more of an experience with the game with out sacrificing those precious greenbacks.
8. Wii Bowling
Wii bowling is the main reason I remember the Wii. Well, that and that design. Love the Wii or hate it, the Wii nunchuck’s (I cannot believe that was a thing) ability to replicate the sensations of bowling was uncanny compared to how the subsequent Wii golf and Boxing offerings in the anthology did not offer the feel of control exhibited by Wii Bowling. That being said I was a bit of a hater and yet I still liked Wii bowling.
It how apparent this game appeals to everyone because of the videos flooding the internet and social media showcasing people that aren’t gamers having the time of their lives in front of the tv with their family in front of the TV screen.
The goofy big headed cartoons’ animated facial exaggerations and lack clearness and fluidity but make up with Nintendo’s charm. The casual gamer’s enjoyment rests in the repeated action of casting the controller forward and with those simple components a casual gaming phenomenon was made.
7. Pokemon Puzzle League
Most puzzle games do not possess depth but are tailored for the casual gamer. Pokemon Puzzle League may be a casual game and lack true depth seen in other games but I remember having hours of fun at a buddy’s house. The mechanics: simple. Moving various signature Pokemon elemental blocks into combos against a buddy and the clock led to hours of fun that genuinely supplemented those sometimes tough and tense single player offerings that would later end up becoming my main gaming diet.
I can look back at those Pokemon Puzzle League days and wonder about all of the excited shouting matches we used to have and that kind of frivolous-in-a-good-way kind of gaming rounded out a solid short-term experience. The Nintendo 64 had a solid presence in my life despite the PS1 console.
Pokemon Puzzle League was essential for my gaming diet to have a good puzzle game around to wean me off of the heavy amount of hours I laid down for Final Fantasy Vlll. Those Pokemon Puzzle league days were the substitute for coming down from an incredibly involved gaming experience.
6. The Original Smash Bros.
The original Super Smash Brothers for the Nintendo 64 is a bare bones fighter and rests within a stone’s throw of depth which Nintendo expounded on with further offerings. The main attacks are assigned to two buttons and each character for “b” is linked to only three moves while the a button is assigned to basic tap combos and smash attacks where the screen-flying KOs come into play. The “b” button plus directional pad attacks have like Mario’s fireball and Samus’s chargeable blaster have colorful variations of projectile attacks.
I argue that the game lacks depth because of the simplistic combos. Capitan Falcon and Fox McCloud execute a series of roundhouses by tapping the A button. These are not a ton of moves to master. A few charge attacks here and there but nothing compared to later entries and additional “b” moves. The dodge and shield mechanics are instinctual once a new gamer plays for a few rounds and that’s all it takes to be off to the races. The jumps and dashes felt super smooth at the time and the controls still hold up and un-complicate the light directional combos.
Classic stages like Fox’s Ship and Kirby’s Dreamland and Saffron City elicit nostalgia and staying power because many old stages end up “recycled” with updated graphics in the later entries.
I will never forgive Samus’s stage, Planet Zebes, for making me cringe and occasionally scream when a friend throws me off the edge when I fall into the highly damaging pits of lava waiting for a doomed player falling off the end of the perilous, ever-changing stage. It doesn’t help that stage somehow ends up in every subsequent Smash Bros entry. The stage is visually sticking with flashy fire and lava effects and enough chaos to suggest the planet is about to blow sky high.
Some of the stages posses enough graphical detail and platform depth and overall high variety when expressing the design of a level. This is hardly a surprise because innovative level design is Nintendo’s meat and potatoes (Mario, anyone?) as the company would continue to expand on throughout the years.
5. Brain Age
Brain Age ended up being a niche genre for gaming upon its original inception. The idea centered on improving brain function by using short cognitive thinking exercises to improve brain function. “Train your brain in minutes a day!” The game makers were not kidding. These exercises did not possess a ton of depth in terms of tasks to perform and they are simple enough, like fitting tangram shapes into a puzzle or memory recall games aimed to improve short-term memory. It’s the games themselves installed in the cartridge, around 30 just for volume one alone.
I remember being curious upon the first release of the game and the advertising campaign. I’ve never heard a game aimed at an audience concerned with self-improvement and well-being. I thought that was pretty cool. The game had a bold premise and the games are simplistic enough I’m sure a toddler could pick up the basic mechanics. Many kids tend to game right out of the womb, and I’m sure some could understand the workings of the games on most of this list.