Critical Play (Theme Only Games): Temple Run and Tiny Wings

I played Temple Run (created by Imangi Studios) and Tiny Wings (created by Andreas Illiger) on iOS, and these two games share the same racing premise in which the main gameplay is “slide to play,” essentially swiping or tapping on the screen at the right time to move the character on the screen. Both games share in a “Challenge” type of fun, with some “Sensory” and “Narrative” with how the themes and story help explain why the player is dedicating their time to racing.

Theme, Aesthetics, and Story
In Temple Run, you play as an adventurer who stole a cursed idol from a temple, and now you have to run for your life to escape “Evil Demon Monkeys” chasing behind you. As you run through an ancient, decrepit temple obscured by fog and vines, you have to turn sharp corners and leap over and duck under obstacles, all while hearing the mad horde of monkeys and suspenseful music. You can earn additional points and currency for character customization by collecting coins during your route, potentially risking your escape. However, while you might last a long time and achieve a new high score, ultimately you are always caught and your escape ends tragically, so enjoy the suspense while you can!
In Tiny Wings, you play as a bird with tiny wings who is seeking to travel across a variety of islands and get as far as possible before you have to rest. Instead of escaping from monsters, you want to fly as far as possible before nighttime, and to fight the fate of your little wings — you want to fly, and so you will! While you are racing against nighttime, because it is a natural phenomenon and not a demonic creature, you become accustomed to the gently fading daylight and can turn to appreciating the lovely geometrically-patterned hills, collecting coins for additional points, and trying to dive really smoothly for a 3-in-a-row streak bonus. The night always comes and you have to sleep, but you might have reached faraway islands during your daytime; this theme emphasizes a peaceful journey and the quiet moments of joy (such as breaking the clouds).
Impact of Theme and Audience
Temple Run offers a similar “so close (yet so far)” frustration that players may also find in Flappy Bird, in that even though the outcome is predetermined, the sinister setting and a promise of a potential win — a rewrite to your normally tragic fate! — incentivizes players to return. Each area is an auto-generation of a basic set of features, such as holey planks, withered trees, and fog, and so the game does become repetitive after several minutes, adding to player claustrophobia and feeling of being lost. Despite the estranging environment, the certain result — you will “lose” even if you get a high score — does add to players appreciating the intense pressure of running, and the fear and excitement of being possibly caught at any moment. Players who are more action-oriented would especially appreciate this game.
Meanwhile, Tiny Wings entices players to return by offering a heartwarming, cozy island setting with rolling hills and plants, and players seeking to reach later islands to explore more of the world. The island settings are also auto-generated — each island has a central graphic theme, with variations in hill size and depth — but because each island is modular, you feel like you are making significant progress as you leave each one. The game has friendly graphics with relatively low lack of consequences — even if you don’t tap the screen, the bird will still keep moving slowly, and the bird will get to happily sleep no matter how you played. It thus is very casual gamer friendly, and focuses more on the little thrills and trills as compared to dramatic suspense. Players who are more meditative and interested in being within an abstract graphics-themed space would most appreciate this game.

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