Grumpy Old Gamer Strikes!: Little Wheel

Go and play Little Wheel now. It’s short, beautiful and I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. I know I did.


Good, because now I’m going to tell you why it’s a bloody horrible abomination.

You just got suckered in by Dragon’s Lair.

For anyone who doesn’t remember it, Dragon’s Lair was a laserdisc-based “game” that was just a cartoon that occasionally required the correct joystick input in order to progress. Get it wrong and you’d be treated to a “hilarious” animation showing you the consequences of your ill-advised actions. Then you’d do it again. And again. And again. Until you got it right and proceeded to the next segment. The big draw was the visuals. It was a fully hand-animated cartoon in 1983 and it was bloody impressive, but as a game, it sucked. I can’t remember any game being as derided in the Spectrum and Amiga magazines I read growing up.

Fast forward to 2009 and you’ve just played Little Wheel. I bet you were won over by its aesthetics and charm and generally Pixar-like characterful loveliness, weren’t you? The fact that it was developed in Slovakia gives it super-duper, indie game bonus cred too.

Now put your gamer head back on and ask yourself, “Where was the game in that?” I counted two screens that contained what I would call puzzles, simple ones at that, and the rest was clicking on the white circles in the correct order. Even that just wasn’t remotely challenging, as by clicking on each circle to find out what it does, the solution is made immediately obvious.

If it wasn’t for how beautiful Little Wheel is ( and it is absolutely gorgeous in every way, I’ve got to restate how much I love the graphics, the sound, the animation, the visual storytelling, everything but the “gameplay”) I wouldn’t be writing about it. You wouldn’t have played it. I wouldn’t have read Bandango’s really rather great “Free and Worth Every Penny” column about it. It would have been just another sad little face in the browser game crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an entertaining few minutes and I’m glad of it, but gamers and the gaming media seem intent on forgiving all manner of sins as long as games are sufficiently arty. We’ve become so obsessed with gaining acceptance as an art form that we’ll ignore flaws that would be inexcusable in other games. On the other hand, we’re decrying the insidiuous influence of the traitor Nintendo and their allies as the Fat Plumber subverts everything we love about our hobby with his “mainstream” and his “casual gamers.”

If you remove everything from Little Wheel that could be done in a regular cartoon, you’re left with precious bloody little. It’s on par with the “games” you occasionally get as extra features on children’s DVDs. You push a pre-determined button to get more animation. That’s even less like a game than the random waggling of Wii shovelware.

Little Wheel is getting well-deserved praise for its presentation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of its failings as a game. If the trend continues and developers realise that being arty will get them more credit than solid gameplay, they will take that route. The dumbing down of gaming will not be the fault of the casual, the mainstream or Nintendo; the blame will be laid squarely at the feet of hardcore gamers who are desperate for the medium to be accepted as art.

~ by bigjonno on June 13, 2009.

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