I'm here to review the awesome Flash game Dino Run, but I'm going to talk about Ebert first.
Roger Ebert has a blog now, and his last entry of 2008 was very doom and gloom, about how the world is really messed up. He replies to a lot of comments, and when one commenter said, "Basically, short of an asteroid the size of Texas hitting this planet, I remain optimistic that we will survive it all and find the way," he responded with a YouTube clip from Discovery Channel animation of an asteroid impacting Earth. Cheery guy. :)
Over the holidays, I've been playing a number of Flash games*, and, that very day, I encountered Dino Run, a game where you play an adorable pixelated velociraptor trying to outrun an asteroid impact. When the game starts, you see the extinction-level asteroid land in the distance:
Your main job is to run like hell. There are lots of other dinosaurs running along with you, on the ground and in the air, while meteor chunks crash around you:
You want to collect some eggs (to preserve the species) along the way, and you can eat some smaller dinosaurs, (It's every dino for itself!) but you have to be careful not to dawdle; if you do, you'll have an intimate encounter with the Wall of Doom, essentially the wavefront of the asteroid collision that's always chasing you:
Dino Run does a great job of imbuing you with an overwhelming sense of urgency and dread. You want to collect eggs, but if you accidentally miss one, you don't dare go back for it. You have to press on, lest your greed cause you and the eggs you've collected perish in the flames of doom. This game somehow seemed very apt in light of Ebert's blog post and comment reply.
Ironically, Ebert is notoriously harsh on the artistic merit of video games. :P While I respect him greatly when it comes to movies, I have to disagree with him there. I think this game is a great example of using the unique qualities of the medium. The sense of dread as I work frantically to outrun the Wall of Doom is much greater because I control the dinosaur than if I were watching an animated movie about a dinosaur outrunning a Wall of Doom. (In video game critical theory, this sense of control is called "agency".)
Doom and gloom! It's the zeitgeist! I bet if this game came out ten years ago, I would've found it to be just another game. I probably wouldn't have read that much into its theme. Then again, it might not have been made ten years ago; the game itself is quite likely a product of our times.
Btw, Dino Run is by PixelJam. They also made a space shooter called Gamma Bros. That's worth playing, too, though I don't have as much to say about it. :)
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P.S.: I decided to start doing a doodle every day. Today's my first one, and it's inspired by Dino Run.
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*I've mostly been playing Flash games on the game hub Kongregate. A lot of them are rather lame, but there are some gems. My friend Paul (linked to on the side) has turned his blog into nothing but reviews of games on Kongregate, so if you want to read more Flash game reviews than you can shake a stick at, you can go check it out.
I first discovered Kongregate through a number of platformer puzzle games. I'd recommend Chronotron, where you can go back in time and interact with previous copies of yourself, Portal: The Flash Version, a fan-made 2D game inspired by the awesome game Portal [YouTube trailer]. There's also the rather original Shift series, which has nice self-referential sense of humor. Finally, this isn't a platformer, but another good puzzle game with a sense of humor is SolaRola.
On the "art game" front you might want to check out I wish I were the Moon and The Majesty of Colors. They're both very quick to play. I also found Aether rather beautiful, though that takes a bit longer to get used to.
Finally, the prize for most ridiculous game every goes to You Have To Burn The Rope, which tells you what to do right in the title, and that's about all there is to do. :)