I chose to play Cut The Rope Remastered (created by ZeptoLab), Angry Birds 2 (created by Rovio Entertainment), and Mushroom 11 (created by Untame). I played all three games on iOS.
How Theme Changes the Experience in Cut The Rope Remastered
In Cut The Rope, your objective is to get candies to a cute green creature called Om Nom by cutting ropes (and other mechanics introduced later). The theme of the game has colorful, cartoonish visuals that brings out the lighthearted theme. The green creature Om Nom is very adorable, and reacts with happy emotions if you succeed in bringing all candies to him, and reacts with sad emotions if you don’t. Om Nom’s innocent expressions serve as in-game motivation for players to succeed in a level. The game’s main aesthetics is Challenge, but I would say that Sense-pleasure is also an important aesthetics, because the experience (visual + audio) of Om Nom is such a big reason why the game stands out from other physics game.
(Om Nom’s happy and sad expressions, based on whether player succeeds in getting candies to him.)
The theme of Om Nom’s quest for candies continues even in places where there is not a lot of gameplay. For example, each stage on the map is signified by a wrapped candy, and when Om Nom gets to it, the wrapper is removed to remove the candy. Om Nom is also used to encourage players to achieve the minor goal of the game, which is to collect all 3 gold stars on each level: at the level summary screen, Om Nom has a different surprised / admiring expression depending on how many stars the player earns. While the theme in these places don’t interact directly with the gameplay, it serves to keep the player immersed in the theme.
(The theming in Cut The Rope extends to the level selection screen as well as the level summary screen. Left: levels are represented as candies in the level selection screen. Right: Om Nom showed different (excited) emotions based on how many stars player gets in the level.)
How Theme Changes the Experience in Angry Birds 2
The objective of each level of Angry Birds 2 is to destroy all the pigs, by sling-shotting birds across the screen. Like Cut The Rope, the visuals of this game is cartoonish, also playing into the lightheartedness of the theme. The theme of birds fighting pigs contributes to explaining the game mechanics to the player. Each bird has a different mechanic (for example, Blue can split into three birds), which introduces variety to gameplay while still keeping to the theme. Part of the game’s Challenge aesthetic is to choose when to use which mechanic, so by tying mechanics to a bird character, the game helps players learn these mechanics faster.
(Because part of the game’s Challenge aesthetics is to choose the appropriate type of projectile (top image, bottom left corner, player can click on a card to choose the current bird), associating the projectile with each bird helps player learn and remember the mechanics (bottom image, Blue bird can split into three.)
How Theme Changes the Experience in Mushroom 11
In Mushroom 11 you control an amorphous organism in an apocalyptic world. The mechanic of the game is changing the mushroom’s shape by erasing parts of it and letting it regrow. Unlike the previous two games, the theme of Mushroom 11 has a more serious tone that focuses on survival. As the organism you control travels through the world, it picks up other organisms, which are indicated by a DNA count. This provides an in-game motivation to solve the puzzles: the player needs to help the mushroom expands its genetic materials to better its chance of survival.
(The theme in Mushroom 11 is apocalyptic survival, so the challenges consist of magma, etc (left image). The organism will perish if all of it touches the magma. The solution would be to split up the organism so part of it is able to cross the magma field (right image).)
Player also encounters organisms that function as “bosses” that need to be defeated, which adds an new aspect to the game’s Challenge aesthetics without making the player feel like they are playing a different game because the boss challenges is still tied to the game’s theme.
(A boss in Mushroom 11 that chases after the organism you control. To defeat it, player must latch onto its tail so that the boss bites its own tail. Player then restart at a previous checkpoint, and is able to pass where the boss was.)