World of Warcraft meets the 1980s
I had a revelation the other day that if the current me went back in time and showed the eight-year old me an iPad, it would blow my mind. Unless my current self was showing my past self Game of Watchcraft: Spawn of Squishy, that is, in which case I’d probably just wonder how Clicker managed to get an LCD game so flat. In the present, it’s a game that ends up both living and dying by its remarkable devotion to handheld game technology that ruled the 1980s.
As a recreation of the old Game & Watch electronic games, Game of Watchcraft is nothing if not impressive. It looks exactly like a dual-screen model LCD game, complete with amazingly authentic touches like the fact that all of the possible spots where something could appear flash at once when you hit start.
But as the title suggests, this is like nothing gamers 30 years ago could have imagined because it’s also a send-up of World of Warcraft. If that seems impossible, you’re underestimating the cleverness of the folks at Clicker. Your character is Squishy the mage, and you send him on quests to collect treasure and vanquish monsters through two zones: the mostly picturesque land of BottomScreen (literally the bottom screen) and the volcanic land of TopScreen.
In BottomScreen, the quest giver has you either defeating a certain number of goblins or fetching some treasure chests. If that’s a commentary on the sameness of many MMO quests, it’s pretty funny. Or maybe it’s just a limitation of the LCD form. It’s hard to tell with this game.
Squishy is pretty handy with his daggers, which you can use to kill goblins in adjacent spaces. Nagas roam the waterways, and you can’t kill them. One hit from any foe means death, so the challenge factor is plenty high at times. Just like in WoW, you have to guide your spirit back to its body any time you perish, which is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face the first time you see it.
Successfully turning in a quest in BottomScreen allows you to mount up and fly to TopScreen, where the devs really got creative. If you’ve ever wanted to experience an MMO raid in LCD form, you can here, since you’ve got a Tank and Healer to help battle a fiery Boss and his spawning minions. Squishy can attack at range with his magic, though you need to keep an eye on his mana. The Healer can give you a quick recharge, but only if the flame trap beside him doesn’t get you first. Yes, even “don’t stand in the fire” makes an appearance.
Quests switch between defeating the Boss (who has his own health meter) and destroying some of his minions. Doing so earns you loot in the form of a cloak that increases mana, a better staff that fires two bolts at a time, or boots that increase your speed. Squishy can also level up with enough monsters beaten and treasure chests grabbed, though it doesn’t make him any more powerful or any less, um, squishy.
If you’re old enough to remember the Game & Watch line or just a fan of retro hipster stuff in general, you’re bound to find Game of Watchcraft delightful – for maybe an hour or two. After the initial admiration for the game design and the power of the nostalgia wear off, the truth is that there just isn’t enough gameplay to hold your attention long term. Again, it’s entirely possible that this is an intentional dig at the repetitiveness of some MMORPGs, but it doesn’t really matter in the end.
There’s also a small matter of progress not always turning into a good thing when it comes to the controls. The single virtual action button is fine given the few things that Squishy can do, but I found myself wishing for a real d-pad on more than one occasion. A touchscreen works great for a lot of different uses, but steering an LCD wizard away from one-hit death isn’t one of them.
As Zack Snyder found out when doing the Watchmen movie, sometimes sticking too close to the form of the source material ends up working against you. That’s the case with Game of Watchcraft, where the high concept is fantastic, the execution is superb, but the end product ends up feeling largely disposable. It’s a warm, witty trip down memory lane, but it’s likely destined to be a short one for most gamers.