Ziggurat

When I spoke to Pachinko Pictures a few weeks ago, one of the more interesting points they made was that despite the sheer weight of numbers on the iPhone and iPad App Store, there isn’t as much variety as you’d expect.

This is largely true, though the Pachinko Pictures duo also noted that it has as much to do with curation as it does creation. The App store spawns particular genres – often based around a simple mechanic – which then seem to multiply rapidly until they exhaust themselves.

This multitudinous similarity is one of the reasons Action Button’s Ziggurat is worth playing. Ziggurat is, like many iPhone games, a one-button design. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike many iOS games that are structured around the idea of theme-and-variation level design, Ziggurat is a game of survival with an immobile player character stuck in the space of one screen, while enemies attack from both sides.

Ziggurat is not as welcoming as other iPhone staples, as its controls, while simple, are obtuse enough to represent a barrier to entry for those looking for another Angry Birds. It took me several concerted attempts to feel comfortable handling Ziggurat.

The key marker of difference for Ziggurat, however, is the game’s aesthetic. Unlike many games on the iOS app store, Ziggurat’s visual style is not about being cute or winsome. It is no Cut The Rope or Tiny Wings or Jetpack Joyride. It is not even really about establishing a kind of adolescent cool, like League of Evil or Temple Run or Solipskier.

Instead, Ziggurat is purely about excess and exuberance. It taps into a nostalgia for DOS-era games with its awkward loading screens and its blaring chip-tune music. However, this nostalgia is simply a by-way of entering (possibly cynically) into Ziggurat’s excess. Ziggurat wields no subtlety and does not bother with a friendly veneer.

Ziggurat’s explosions are too big, its music overindulgent, its death screens (“you managed to kill ninety-one of the alien freaks who killed everyone else”) too masculine. Its marketing is even more calculatedly absurd, with designer Tim Rogers (yes, the same Tim Rogers who writes similarly unrestrained essays, and no, not Tim Rogers the Australian musician) birthing a persona around the game as outrageously large as the banner image on the game’s official site.

Everything about Ziggurat is excessive. It is kind of ridiculous, and it is kind of wonderful. For the iOS App store, at least, that’s something new.

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