Tuesday, March 10, 2015

'Sam or I': the new social casual game from Absolute Hero Games

(Disclosure: Sponsored post but opinions are my own.)

The fine folks at Absolute Hero Games gave me a peek at their brand new game called Sam or I which comes out today and is available on Facebook HERE.  


The verdict: I couldn’t stop going back for more of this killer gameplay mechanic.


A Simply Unique Game
It’s really hard to find a stand-out game with a novel play mechanic that hasn’t been overdone. But this new social casual game by Absolute Hero Games, Sam or I, mashes up classic casual game mechanics of four major types of games: ‘block breaker’, platformer, side-scroller and puzzle then blends them all into something totally new and intriguing. Truth be told, I’ve played many, many casual games since I once worked in casual games. But Sam’s thoughtful artistic design is delightfully surprising to find in the social casual space. That’s also why this particular game’s well-balanced levels coupled with it’s novel hybrid game mechanic, make it an exciting addition on the Facebook platform (and soon, iOS & Android platforms).

sam_poised.png sam_grandfather.png

Sam or I is set in Feudal Japan and chronicles the journey of Sam, a plucky, young samurai-in-training, as she follows a map given to her by her grandfather sensei.  She uses her ‘martial arts skills’ to break through blocks between her and the keys at the end of the each level. The rich graphics and animations pay homage to the simplicity of ancient East Asian art. Meanwhile, the distinctive color palette and atmospheric background music really give it an inviting, optimistic vibe.

The Social Casual Element
Levels become more intricate as you progress. The Absolute Hero Games team balanced ‘clickable fun’ with focused concentration.  A player is best advised to be thoughtful and deliberate since Sam only has a limited number of moves to reach the end of each level. In her travels, Sam encounters combinations of basic color blocks, immovable stone blocks, locked blocks, burn-your-feet-and-subtract-moves lava blocks, and (my personal favorite) color-shifting chameleon blocks that can change your strategy in an instant.  Every day players are awarded a certain number of coins which can be used to buy various boosters that add to the number of moves allowed in a level, delete whole columns, undo turns, or eliminate all of one color block from the board. A player can also straight-up purchase coins for boosters which is the ‘throw-money-at-the-problem’ option.


Female Factor
While casual games are typically made FOR the female demographic, it’s rare that they are actually made BY them. Two of the primary creative forces behind the game--lead developer, Lisa Wick and lead artist, Kaari King--are in fact women. “I think women are an asset to any healthy working environment. Their contribution can add a balance to any creative collaboration,” said King. “A lot of casual games are geared towards women as customers so it only makes sense that women should help to create those experiences.”

However, Sam or I is intended for a broader audience than the usual ‘women over 30’ demographic. "We believe this game will appeal to a very broad audience," said CEO Craig Robinson.

But shooting for a broad audience requires a lot of refining. “We had the freedom to explore and iterate on what worked/didn't work in every aspect of the game from start to finish,” added Wick. “The making of this game was very much a team collaboration.”   

King also enjoyed the collaboration and responsibility that comes in smaller teams. “I am grateful for the path that eventually led me to the casual game space which turns out to be my favorite type of game to make and play,” she said. “It includes colorful, happy graphics, small teams and short product cycles, where I have large ownership of the visuals for an entire game.”

I think the team’s gender balance is part of what allowed the game to have more depth and appeal. The play mechanic is sophisticated but not overly complex. The levels are impressively challenging as is the attention to detail. And all of this done in HTML5--not the easiest platform to develop highly-polished game graphics and animations.


Absolute Hero Games & HTML5
The team at Absolute Hero Games started out two years ago doing contract-for-hire games but ultimately wanted to develop their own IP. Though all seven members are game developing veterans and hail from all corners of the industry (mobile, console, social, PC), Absolute Hero Games’ specialty is HTML5 social casual games. HTML5 is an exciting and efficient approach that allows one code base to be developed to target many different platforms, including Facebook, web browsers, mobile devices and tablets.

“The best thing about HTML5 is that it is capable of delivering a high-quality gaming experience across desktop and mobile browsers without the need for Flash or other plug-ins,” said King.  “Players don’t have to download a separate plug-in and developers don’t have to have separate codebase for each platform.”

Developing games in this way makes them much easier to scale and extend and Sam or I integrates the benefits of a social game like comparative rankings, in-game item share-ability and in-game purchases of boosters, coins, keys and accessories.

Sam or I is an invitingly subtle yet sophisticated, easy-to-learn social casual game that has overall appeal for a wide audience. And just like it says in the video, it's ‘small in size, big on power.’ Find Sam or I now on Facebook HERE.


All images used with permission © 2015 Absolute Hero Inc.

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