Imagine if you will, a bag of one of your favorite candies. You reach in and grab a handful and they’re delicious. You grab a second handful and they’re even better. You reach in again, only this time you grab a fistful of air. The bag is empty. The enjoyment already over. Such is the experience of playing City Tuesday from developer Return to Adventure Mountain. This aesthetically distinct puzzle game for the Xbox 360 is a breath of fresh air in the puzzle game genre, but it ends just as it’s getting started.
In City Tuesday, players take on the role of an unnamed citizen tasked with stopping the machinations of a bomb-crazy criminal element. There’s very little backstory for who these villains are, and there’s never an explanation for who the protagonist is or why he alone is responsible for saving the city. The goal is clear though: capture all of the bombs before time runs out.
The player does have one thing working in his or her favor: the ability to relive that same momentous day over and over again. At any time, players can rewind the clock to restart the day, though any bombs that have been captured don’t need to be obtained again. In true Bill Murray fashion, the day can be spent gathering information about the personalities and movement patterns of citizens of the city. This gives the player a timetable under which they can operate to ensure they’re in the right place at the right time. This implementation of time travel in video games is not a wholly unique concept, classics like Majora’s Mask immediately come to mind, and even though it’s not implemented as deeply here, it’s done reasonably well.
The complexity of the puzzles quickly ramps up, but never gets too difficult. City Tuesday begins with simple one-screen brainteasers to introduce players to the controls and shortly afterwards to the time reset concept. There’s a running timer and non-controllable events are set for specific times, because of this it’s impossible in the latter stages of the game to collect all of the bombs in a single run. Players will have to talk to citizens to learn passcodes or follow them as they move from one location to another as their actions set new events in play. Often movement to specific locations is restricted by security guards, so learning how and when to slip by takes some cunning and patience. There are plenty of red herring characters and events thrown in that serve to make sure the solutions aren’t too obvious and to make the city feel more alive. There’s also a good amount of humor to be found in the information about all of the people encountered along the way.
Coming into the 2012 Indie Games Uprising event, of which City Tuesday is a part, this game was at the top of my radar and it all started with a look at the visual style. The design was inspired by help signs seen in public transportation. All of the characters are drawn as stick figures and the settings involve a lot of train stations, parking lots, and other public transit-based themes. The game also opens up with an artistic opening cinematic that has to be seen to be appreciated. I came away very impressed with the aesthetics of this game.
Unfortunately, there must be some inherent flaw with creating a mad bomber game. Much like last year’s SpeedRunner HD – also part of the last Indie Games Summer Uprising – City Tuesday is incredibly short. Less than an hour after sitting down to fire up the game for the first time, I reached the rather abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying ending. The game had just hit its stride with four or five bombs spread across a dozen or so screens, many of which had events cross over between them. Just like that, though, the game was over. There wasn’t even a closing cinematic to tie a ribbon on the story. Just a bland end screen that I wasn’t even sure at first was an end screen. It’s disappointing on a few levels. Having just pumped hour after hour into Smooth Operators, it was surprising that this game was over. Since there’s no variability in the way events play out, there’s no reason to play through the game again. Honestly, though, I think the biggest reason I was disappointed in the game was because for that one hour I saw a ton of promise as the game kept building up the puzzle sophistication. The puzzles were fun and there was personality. Sadly, in the end it felt more like a proof of concept than a full-fledged game. Hopefully the developers can take this solid framework and make a fleshed-out sequel.
I had no trouble with finding a voice for the things I loved and hated about City Tuesday. What was problematic was trying to assign it a review score. The content of the game is good, even bordering on great. But is there enough to justify a solid rating? The crushing disappointment of the game’s brevity is counterbalanced by the fun factor of the puzzles. In the end, it was the game’s visual style that gave it the slightest of nudges into recommendation territory. Buyers beware, though, as those expecting a full-length adventure will be the ones blowing up.
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