/ Urban

Gaming on the Shanghai Underground

The 7th Game Developers Conference Shanghai might not be coming until October, but if you’re interested in hearing some big names in the video game industry wax lyrical about design theory and business practice, you should get the tickets before June 5th, after which the prices jump substantially.

To celebrate the plucky young developers who’ll hopefully attend and learn from the greats, I thought I’d review the two most popular games on the Google Play Store (about two days ago). With a twist! I only played the games on the most crowded parts of Metro Line 2. After all, we have to do something with the dead time we spend myopically staring at stations flashing by like we’ve contracted the zombie virus. God forbid we break the golden rule of public transport and actually acknowledge a fellow passenger’s existence, so why not see if there’s anything that could stand up to Candy Crush or 2048?

Don’t Tap the White Tile (Andriod)/Piano Tiles (iOS) by Hu Wen Zeng

*not Hu Wen Zeng

First off, the important questions.

  • What skills do I need? - Tapping, reflexes
  • Can I play one-handed? Two-handed is best (unless you’ve got flexible thumbs and a good grip)
  • Can I play it sideways or upright? - Upright
  • Do I need headphones? - Yes!
  • Is there a "Head-Turn Factor"? - Commuters glanced occasionally when the tapping got really frantic
  • How long do the games last? - 2 seconds to a full minute or further, if you’re really good
  • Is it a rip-off of something else? - Probably Don't Step the White Tile [sic]

The name kind of explains it all. There are four tiles at the bottom of the screen and you have to press the black one. After you make it through the log-in prompts (just skip those), various modes are available. There’s Classic, where you try to reach a set score as quickly as you can; Arcade, which scrolls down as you tap furiously; Rush, which is like Arcade except you try to set a "taps per second" record; Relay, which is kind of like a time trial; and Zen mode, which, with a countdown timer flashing at the top of the screen, isn’t particularly Zen at all.

The sound sets the game apart. Ever heard a beginner-intermediate piano player trying to play a piece that’s too advanced for them? That’s this game. When you hit a black tile, a note plays from a variety of piano pieces, such as that most brutalised of classical music’s dead horses, Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Since you’re just mashing tiles as fast as possible, the rhythm sometimes lines up, but usually it’s all over the place. You could turn the piano sounds off, or replace them with a beep, but don’t, because the sounds is what makes this game kind of addictive and fun. You want to see how badly you can mutilate the music. I felt a weird rush trying to sprint headlong to the coda of Ode to Joy and immediately get into the next song before the poor device could rest its arthritic fingers.

Playing it on the metro was great. It has a cool little rest reminder to let you know when you’ve played too long, and you can set it to ding after as many games as you think you can take, wuss. That way, you don’t lose yourself in it and miss your station, but I recommend playing it with only one earphone in, just in case. Some people started to look when I began really stabbing the screen, but mostly, it was unobtrusive, immersive and fun. It’s easy to quit out of because there’s not a lot of progress to lose, but engaging enough that you might consider playing the game up the escalator for just a few more seconds.

Play this game when you’ve got time to kill between stops

PEPI Skate 3D by foose games

This is basically a Temple Run-type game, except on a skateboard. You tilt the phone to manoeuvre down the track scrolling towards you, and you swipe up and down to jump and crouch. Police cordons, cars, chain-link fences, dumpsters full of sand and road signs do their very best to make you grit your teeth in frustration and mutter obscenities under your breath. You collect powerups to help in the level, and coins to unlock new levels and skaters.

I feel like this game is best typified by something that happens at the start of a level. There’s a countdown to when you can start manoeuvring, but as you’re cruising along under the game’s control, coins whip past you on the track. You can’t move to get them. From the very start, you feel like this game is idly flipping you the bird. “A tad helpless, are we?” it seems to snort derisively. "Get used to that feeling." The controls are sloppy and unresponsive, the draw distance is just short enough to be frustrating, the level design is monotonous and drab, the graphics look ten years old, ads slap you in the face constantly, and the sound-effects are annoying and impossible to turn off unless you mute your whole phone.

Playing this game on the metro was an unpleasant experience. I looked up at one point to see that the other passengers had given me a wide berth because I was unconsciously tilting my whole body to get the damn skater to move and hissing at the phone when inevitably he didn’t, the capricious little slacker punk god why can’t you just jump when I tell you to jump I swear—

Avoid playing this game anywhere

- Alex