Capsule review

Feb 23, 2012

Excess, exuberance and Ziggurats

When I spoke to


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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4 thoughts on “Excess, exuberance and Ziggurats

  1. Daniel Golding

    I’ll certainly be trying my best not to!

  2. Ruprecht

    So you won’t be telling us which games are “must-haves” that will “blow you away”? Or doing previews, uploading screenshots and performance comparisions between systems?

    Aww shucks.

  3. Daniel Golding

    Largely I agree with the Pachinko guys in that it’s more about curation than anything else at the moment for iOS. Reviews of iOS games are better geared towards a mentality of “this is worth taking a look at” than “this is worth your money”. Of course a huge amount of iOS games are worth the tiny amount of money they ask, so it’s really a case of the need for filtration and guidance.

    On the other hand, I don’t really see my own reviews of any videogame as purchasing guides. I aim for a kind of criticism that can provide a new or interesting way to think about a game or a related issue rather than a value-for-money recommendation. That’s not to say that product-centric reviews don’t have their place, but rather that I’m just trying to provide something else.

  4. Ruprecht

    Sounds interesting, I might check it out just to see Rogers’ design chops after reading his thoughts on games and game design.

    Is it harder to review iOS games effectively, given that they’re all so cheap that almost anything is worth a look? I guess it’s a matter of not seeing reviews as a purchasing guide. Still, as a new iPhone owner I see a lot of content on the app store but need a means to differentiate good from bad.

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