Critical Play: Theme Only Games

For this critical play, I played two games in the ‘Match Three’ genre: Dots and Cat Condo, both mobile games on iOS. The similarities between both games lie mostly in their simple and easy-to-learn mechanics that end up being rather addicting, meaning both games have intended audiences that can lean rather young. Both games are single player puzzle games that allow a player to become completely immersed in the game and to forget the outside world through addictive gameplay.

For Cat Condo, the simple ‘Match Three’ mechanic manifests itself in a way that’s similar to the popular puzzle game 2048, where two ‘like’ objects can be merged together to form an object that is proportionally worth more. Here, the most simple object is a ‘Kitty Cat’ which can be merged with another ‘Kitty Cat’ to create a ‘Kitten’ and again to create a ‘Sneaky Cat,’ continuing all the way until all 20 cats have been revealed. 

The main motivation in the game is simply chasing the excitement and novelty of revealing a new unique cat, each of which becomes progressively ‘cooler’ as you discover more. The design of the game is incredibly visually stimulating: the entire screen is covered with illustrated icons describing your XP and coin stats with lots of color and attention-grabbing graphics. The addiction feature comes from the fact that you have to wait 10 seconds before getting a new cat, meaning you simply sit and wait. This delayed gratification feels like hitting the slot machine, getting a new cat every single time to satiate your need for something cuter every time. 

For Dots, the simple ‘Match Three’ mechanic manifests itself in a different way. Here, the screen is populated with small colored dots (yellow, green, blue, purple, and red), and the user can draw a zigzagging line connecting any adjacent sets of 2+ dots to remove them from the screen. If connected in a square, all dots of that same color will be removed. The objective of the game, depending on which mode you choose, is to get rid of as many dots as possible in the game. 

The design of Dots is completely different from Cat Condo, mainly because of its apparent lack of theme. While Cat Condo is a visual and emotional playground of cats and color, Dots is a completely white and minimalistic screen, allowing the user to focus on the dots in front of them. While the addiction in Cat Condo comes mainly from the strong emotional associations of the theme, the addiction factor in Dots is derived almost entirely from the mechanics themselves as you connect dots over and over while waiting for exactly the right colors to fall from the top. The lack of theme makes Dots perhaps more appealing for teenage/adult players while remaining just as simple of a game to learn, play, and enjoy.

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