Games of 2012: Triple Town

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Triple Town

I generally try to avoid hyperbole, but not tonight: Triple Town is one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played. I’m putting it on the level of Tetris or Bejeweled or Picross.

One sign of a great puzzle game is being able to explain it simply. I can reduce Triple Town down to three points:

  • You’re given a tile, and you place it on the 6×6 play field.
  • If three tiles of the same type are touching each other, they combine onto the last placed tile and upgrade to the next type.
  • Repeat until the play field is full, at which point the game ends.

Simple and unique. It was so unique, it was effectively stolen from the developers by a trusted partner and cloned, which forced Spry Fox to file a lawsuit.

The path of the tiles follows the natural construction of a town. Grass turns into bushes, bushes into trees, trees into small houses, and then larger and larger houses into castles. The game’s internal geometry clicks quickly, as you’ll quickly devise ways to block off areas to farm lower tier tiles into higher ones.

If that was all there is, Triple Town would be fairly mundane and straightforward. But then come those damned Giant Bears (or as they’re referred to around my house, “Chocobears”) and Ninja Bears. Occasionally appearing in your tile pile, they will get in the way of your attempts to put tiles down. Giant Bears will keep shuffling around until they have no path to follow – at which point they turn into a tombstone. Ninja Bears have to be killed off with a robot.

Like Tetris and Bejeweled, Triple Town balances on the fine line between executing your plan and dealing with curveballs. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve gotten into a flow of my build before an inconvenient tile pops up, forcing me to re-plan. The play field is relatively small, keeping you from having too much breathing room. For a puzzle game with no timer, it can get frustratingly stressful.

It’s been fun to watch Triple Town keep evolving on its own since its launch. When I first played the game, there was just a single map generator, but later updates introduced variations on the theme, like Peaceful Valleys (no bears, but lakes permanently block off some tiles). The recent Mac/PC release added a meta-town; successful upgrades in your meta-town yields items for use in regular towns, and vice versa.

If you’ve ever found yourself deeply addicted to a puzzle game, stay far away from Triple Town. It is crack for puzzle enthusiasts.

Triple Town is available on iOS, Android, Facebook, and Mac/Windows. My experiences were largely with the iOS version, but if you have a choice, get the Mac/Windows one, as it is the “ultimate hardcore version”.


Gaming 2008: The PC

Beyond the music games, the iPhone becoming a mature gaming platform, or the bounty of multiplatform games, 2008 will be the year I’ve rediscovered the joy of PC gaming.

A quick eulogy: Mac gaming is dead. Really dead. The few companies that were left doing mostly Mac development have realized that all the money is on the iPhone, and they have a leg up on most other companies. Freeverse, Pangea, and Ambrosia are all flourishing on the iPhone. Those who want to play serious games on their Macs all have Boot Camp partitions.

I’ve been out of the industry for nearly five years now, but I feel sad that what used to be such a vibrant part of my life has disintegrated. Let us have a moment of silence.

Moving on.

To be forthright: this generation of consoles has left me a bit down in the dumps. Sony has some great ideas, but they keep fucking up the execution. Microsoft is more than willing to pay what it takes to be #1, but that doesn’t mean they’re paying for games I want to play. And Nintendo will continue making money no matter what they do, so they have no need to satisfy the “core gamer”.

And so I have drifted back towards the PC, where I’ve found sanctuary in a fantastic dichotomy.

On one side, you have Steam. Valve has done the one thing no other entertainment company has really understood to date – using DRM to *enhance* their customer’s purchases, not hamper them. All of my purchased games on Steam will follow me to any new computer I visit. I can redownload them as many times as I see fit. All the games automatically patch themselves to the newest version, saving me the need to hunt down updaters. Games that support Steam Cloud will save my settings up onto the server, making sure I never lose my save games again.

I wish we lived in a world where every download service was as well put together as Steam is.

On the other side of the PC gaming dichotomy, you have an uncontrollable mass of indie developers, who are putting together games just because they can. There have been some brilliant games that came out this year that were only released on forums. That sort of developer community is stifled by the constraints of an XBLA, a Wii Ware, or a PSN – but can thrive on a desktop platform. (Some games manage to straddle both sides of this world. Many of these are in the list below.)

With all this in mind, and since I didn’t really have any PC disappointments this year: here are the best PC games I played this year.
Audiosurf managed to turn every track in your music library into a Klax-like puzzle experience. Then it added leaderboards for every song. Holding the #1 record on your favorite songs is a huge headrush. Getting an email someone else just knocked you down the ladder is heartbreaking.

Trials 2 has its roots in games I’ve played in yesteryear, but this really nails the addictive factor in a physics based puzzle game. I haven’t touched it in a few months and I *still* have the engine sound stuck in my head from countless retries.

While I listed it in the Multiplatform section, my Fallout 3 purchase was for the Steam version. While it would no doubt run better on either of my consoles, knowing that I have access to the upcoming DLC, any community mods made with the G.E.C.K., all the same achievements as the 360 version, and a mouse/keyboard for controls makes it the proverbial “superior version”.

While it’s individual portions came out in 2006 and 2007, Company of Heroes Gold was a 2008 release, and an easy pickup during the Steam sale. It feels like the kind of RTS game I might actually stick with, since I’m less prone to a zerg rush.

World Of Goo has gotten acclaim across every platform it’s appeared on. It’s with good reason – it’s a great new puzzle game, with a great sense of character and goofy charm.

Same story with Aquaria, actually. Less goofy charm, though.
Flatout: Ultimate Carnage took a series I had a mild infatuation with and cranked it up. It runs like shit on my current machine, but even in low resolution it’s blisteringly awesome.

Spelunky! is another game that is making me make up new genres. Ready? It’s a *roguelike arcade game*. Made by Derek Yu (who also did Aquaria), it is the perfect illustration of what independent developers are capable of doing right now.

Chalk these up as “late to the party” games: Outrun Coast 2 Coast 2006 is maybe the best Sega racer I’ve had the pleasure to play. Sid Meier’s Pirates! was a game I had experienced on the PSP but now am absolutely in love with on a proper platform.

There is one more game to go – and it is a PC game – but it’s getting a separate post.