I recently played a game called Tanaka’s Friendly Adventure. It is a very good game! So good, in fact, that I do not completely understand why it is so good. But I have me some theories! Read on, and my theories, I will tell them to you!
First, some background. The game is fairly charmingly presented via GameBoy-esque 4-color pixel graphics, complete with mellow chip-tune music. You control a little armless blob, and walk around on a forest path looking for friends to come to your party. Every time you leave the screen, there is a (fairly good) chance you will meet someone, and they will start following you. You and the things you meet are all low-rez animations of strange, whimsical creatures. Once you get eight or so friends, you win!
And… that’s basically the extent of the game. Or at least what they pretend is the game, anyway. Walk around on identical screens until eight friends show up, (usually 8-10 screens worth of walking) and you win. As a game, it’s pretty simplistic. And not even all that compelling by itself. But the larger metagame, ahh, that’s where it gets you. After you win, the game invites you to “go to the party” from the main menu to hang out with your friends. If you do this, you discover that the party is basically a “your collection” sort of screen, with numbered slots for all the potential guests. The ones you met on your walk are present, with amusing descriptions. The rest are tantalizingly empty. You met eight on your walk before winning. There are 72 numbered spots.
If you play again, chances are you will meet a different eight friends. Or maybe a few old faces, and a few new ones. Or maybe if you’re really unlucky, all old ones? Either way, your party has more people in it now.
So why do I find this so compelling?
I’m finding a couple sources of motivation here. First, it is simply fun to see the crazy things you can run in to. The friends you find on the path are many and varied, and the low rez graphics leave a lot to the imagination. The descriptions in the party are equally quirky, offering tiny glimpses of their “stats” and personal likes and dislikes, foibles and personalities. Frankly they are fun to read. So a big part of my motivation has been just wanting to see more strange things because finding them is enjoyable.
Second, there is definitely an aspect of the “ooh, a bar is filling up, I’m making PROGRESS!” mentality going on here. And even as I recognize it, I am helpless in its grip! It’s sort of like a less heavy-handed version of Achievement Unlocked. Or maybe a minimalist version of Pokemon, where I wander through the grass and find neat things, without all the time consuming mess of having to fight and capture them. Either way, the game keeps giving me persistent rewards, and so like any good Pavlovian subject, I keep engaging in the same activity hoping for more. Even though it is clearly artificial, there is a feeling of progress as my party room slowly fills.
Third (and I freely admit that this is a pretty geeky reason) the programmer in me is still trying to figure out exactly what the algorithm is for deciding which new people you meet and where. It seems like there is SOME pattern, (heading due east gives you TEN different people who all look basically identical, for example) but it seems like there is some randomness, too. (I suspect that there is a [non-cartesian] “map”, with some locations giving fixed friends, and some locations giving random ones.) Still, the part of my brain that wants to poke at things until I understand them keeps saying “c’mon, one more time! Maybe I’ll get it THIS TIME, just a little more data!”
Finally, while not a compulsion in itself, all of these reasons are greatly aided by the incredibly low barrier for entry. It’s just so easy to play another game. Heck, while I was writing this, I took at least two more trips than I strictly needed for screenshots, just because I was finding a few new friends. Since the game is bounded at eight or so friends per trip, there isn’t even any danger of getting sucked in for too long. You KNOW that a game will last a set amount of time, so it’s easy to convince yourself to go on a walk for more friends. The experiences are like potato chips. They’re small and tasty, and it is can be hard to stop at just one.
So yeah. This game rules. It is simple and sweet, and somehow it works far better than I would have expected from a description. I don’t know how much of this was conscious, calculated planning, and how much was just excellent instinct on the part of the creator, but either way, well done BentoSmile, well done indeed!