App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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In the way that the mainstream games industry operates, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that video games are supposed to be fun. For some reason, the current trend for the industry is to funnel resources into massive, hyper-realistic, and serious games that tend to also have an enormous human cost when it comes to their management and development. Where is the fun in that? This is an honest question, though I'm not sure exactly how to answer it. What I will say is I was thinking about this constantly while playing There Is No Game, an inventive, bizarre, and silly adventure game that takes lots of creative risks and creates the feeling of enjoying a game alongside the people who made it.
There Is No Game is essentially a point-and-click adventure game, but leaving it at that would do it a disservice. It's story involves a sentient set of game code that doesn't want you to play it, so it does everything it can in its menus and settings to stop you from pushing the play button.
Your goal then becomes starting the game, though this challenge itself is its own kind of game, and one that ends up weaving a pretty complicated narrative that serves as both a meditation on the people who make games and some sharp satire on the current gaming landscape. To give you a sense of what this means (without spoiling too much), this involves exploring various genres of games and solving puzzles that mostly subvert common game tropes.
As you explore the worlds of There Is No Game, you are constantly being talked to by the game itself, and you end up learning about why it is so hesitant to let you play it (that is, when it's not too busy being annoyed at you or dropping hints at puzzle solutions). Despite the somewhat awkward voice acting, I was surprised by how well-written and clever the game is, and how much attention went into designing some puzzles around its dialog, especially the musical numbers.
Yes, you read that right: musical numbers.
I'll leave it at that to--again--avoid spoilers, but it's this sense of whimsy, creativity, and care that really makes There Is No Game feel special. Nothing in the game is half-assed. Even the satirical jabs at conventional game designs are lovingly crafted and don't just feel like throwaway references.
This isn't to say that all of There Is No Game is an absolute pleasure. There are definitely times where the game's puzzle design becomes a little too obtuse or relies on mechanics that don't look or feel great compared to the rest of it. That said, these moments all feel like necessary components on the way to forming a cohesive and special whole. There Is No Game hops genres, formats, and visuals in such unexpected ways that it's kind of worth it to see the surprises it has in store, even if not all of them are all that successful.
The saving grace that makes these subpar occasions tolerable is There Is No Game's hint system, which helpfully can guide you through even the most inscrutable moments in the game. Each particular puzzle has multiple hints you can choose to unlock, with the final one always being specific instructions on how to solve it. This may occasionally suck some of the challenge out of There Is No Game, but it also guarantees you'll never get frustrated or bored while stuck on any given puzzle.
The bottom line
Few games have charmed me in the way that There Is No Game has. It's far from perfect, but it's brimming with love and joy for games and people who play them, which is a rare quality for a game to have, and reason enough for me to tell you that this is the best non-game game you'll probably ever play.