For this critical play I played three games: Temple Run, Tiny Wings, and Jetpack Joyride. While all three were race games and the primary objective is to make it as far as possible, their themes greatly impacted the designer’s decisions for different mechanics.
The main theme of this game was to run away from those demon-monkey creatures and collect coins along the way. The currency gives you the ability to buy new avatars with varying speeds and strengths. Obstacles slow you down or kill you. If you’re slowed down, then the creatures chasing you catch up. The mechanic of being chased means that there was a sense of urgency that players felt when playing this game; it also meant that (at least in my experience) as the game gets more difficult, players prioritize making jumps/avoiding obstacles over the coins they collect. The theme of this game is a little bit more anxiety-inducing than the other two, as you are being chased by these scary looking things, and the means of death (if you’re caught by them) is implied to be quite gruesome.
left: chased by the creatures; middle: running and collecting coins; right: after tripping on a tree root, the creatures have caught up and are in sight again.
The basic premise of this game is that the protagonist steals a jetpack from a laboratory and makes a break for it. This theme affect that the mechanic of how the player moves around; the protagonist always moving at a constant speed (which slowly increases to make the game more and more challenging) and the player taps and holds to turn on the jetpack, which propels the protagonist up to avoid obstacles. The nature of the obstacles as well as the boosters are also affected by the theme: incoming rockets that track the player, lasers the protagonist needs to avoid, and the variety of boosters which are like technological inventions, possibly created by the lab the protagonist just escaped. I would say that while Temple Run and Tiny Wings give you a sense of urgency from something chasing you (creatures or time), this game is less so. As the game gets more difficult and it’s harder to respond because your protagonist is moving faster, it becomes more challenging (skill demanding), but there is less of a sense of anxiety (especially compared to Temple Run).
obstacles like lazers. notice the exclamation mark in the first photo––this is a warning for an incoming blaster
“boosters” as different machines with different mechanics/strengths.
In this game, what’s constraining the player is how much time in the day they have left. Kind of like the night is “chasing” them. In order to extend the day, the player has to collect suns, which is the currency in the game. This is different from the other two games because the currency directly affects the current round that you’re playing! Additionally, the obstacles in this game are all skill-based, where if you don’t ride the valleys, your bird goes slower and wastes more time in the day. While the mechanics of boosts from riding the valleys perfectly and collecting suns to get more time may make it seem like the game has a good balance for strategy prioritizing both, as players become more skilled, riding the valleys well gets you much further than suns, as the payoff from the increased speed and distance outweighs slowing down to collect a trivial amount fo suns.
left: collecting suns in the valleys; right: sun is setting and night is approaching.
having gotten into a good flow (by riding the valleys), the bird is flying higher and faster. notice the sun indicator at the bottom left that shows how much time you have left.