Welcome back to our series on what we can learn from the best games of 2019. And how the big trend has been simplicity. So far we’ve focused on storytelling and choices in games. But for this post, I’ll be going over my top three favorite titles of 2019 (which are more casual games), and what we can learn from them.

In the wrong place? Head back to part one, or skip ahead to part three.

4. Grindstone

  • Developer: Capybara Games
  • Release date: 19th September 2019
  • Available on: iOS
  • Price: Free with Apple
  • Arcade Genre: Casual | Puzzle game

A puzzle game with a twist

In Grindstone, you draw a line through coloured enemies who sit in a grid. Doing this gets you gems. It’s similar to games like Candy Crush. But it’s so much more. First, you’re a mad axeman chopping your way through monsters. And second, you choose to stay at the level for as long as you like.

Or rather, for as long as you dare.

Give players incentive to keep going

The original goal during each level is easy to achieve: Kill a certain number of monsters, open the door, grab the chest and leave. But if you’re greedy, you can choose to stick around and get more gems. Unfortunately, the game will now throw more baddies who can fight back if you land next to them.

This means that Grindstone rewards you for your daring. How close to that edge can you walk? How long will you stay in the dungeon before you decide it’s too risky to continue? If you try for that really long chain, will you get stuck next to an enemy? Because of this, Grindstone appeals to two kinds of players in the simplest of ways: ramp up the difficulty once the main goal is done.

It also helps teach players the ropes. And adds a lot of replay value. A beginner can go through the first few levels, learning the ropes, without feeling overwhelmed. But an expert can go back to level one and get more gems than a beginner ever thought possible.

Ride the arcade train

Grindstone is in the Apple Arcade. This means it doesn’t have adverts, doesn’t need in-app purchases, but feels like a free game to the player. It’s a model that’s really helping developers focus on creating entertaining and addictive games, without resorting to underhanded tactics to block players from continuing.

But that doesn’t mean we should forget some mechanics. Grindstone shows how gathering in-game currency and improving items can keep the player moving forward. Layering in these types of features and elements can keep your players engaged and wanting to continue.

5. Jelly Shift

  • Developer: SayGames
  • Release date: 6th July 2019
  • Available on: Android, iOS, Chrome
  • Price: Free with Ads
  • Genre: Casual | Hyper-casual

Wibbly wobbly fun

Hyper-casual games really show off the value in a simple idea. In Jelly Shift, the player swipes up or down to change their shape and tries to fit through certain gaps. So what does it teach us about creating other games?

Focus on the flow

The menu for Jelly Shift doesn’t have a start button. It’s actually laid over the game itself. As soon as the player starts swiping, the menu vanishes and they’re into the action. This is especially important for a hyper-casual game, where your player might only have a few minutes while they’re on the train or in a waiting room.

The same is true in the game itself. Mistakes aren’t punished with a “game over” screen, which is important in these types of games which rely heavily on a satisfying experience. If you bump into a panel, it merely breaks where you hit it, slows you down a bit, but then lets you continue. So if you’re creating a hyper-casual game, don’t punish your players too harshly, otherwise, they might not come back.

Use your adverts wisely

The only real downfall of Jelly Shift, in my experience, is the number of adverts. It’s a fun, casual game that people can pick up whenever they want. And the game design really shows that they thought about how they could keep the game flowing. Unfortunately, they have adverts that take over the screen, and this completely breaks that flow they’d so carefully designed.

So if you’re making a game like this, avoid spamming your players with too many ads. Rewarded ads, in-app purchases, and unlockables are all other great ways to build revenue, without churning your players too early.

6. Roller Splat

  • Developer: Voodoo & Neonplay
  • Release date: 26th January 2019
  • Available on: Android, iOS
  • Price: Free with Ads
  • Genre: Casual | Hyper-casual

Puzzles don’t need to be hard

In Roller Splat, the player has to paint every tile in the level. You swipe and move until you bump into a wall. It’s a kind of puzzle that anybody who has played Zelda will be familiar with, but it works well for a hyper-casual game.

Think about the emotion you’re targeting

The trick with Roller Splat, compared to other casual games, is that they’ve really focused on a specific feeling. Some games try to make you feel afraid. Others try to make you feel like a hero. Roller Splat is true to the hyper-casual genre, in that it is trying to make you feel satisfied.

And it’s only a graphical change from a mechanic we’ve all probably seen before. By ‘painting’ the floor, the player now has an urge to complete what they started.

One mechanic, one idea. If players can’t understand your game in a few seconds, then it’s likely too complicated to be a hyper-casual title. Roller Splat manages to onboard their new players in just a couple of levels, without needing to walk the player through the controls.

This is quite a clever move by Voodoo, as it means they also don’t need to worry as much about translation. Instead, they rely on their game design to do the talking. Which means they can release the game in multiple countries much faster.

If you’re interested in learning more about how this hit title gained over 49 million downloads worldwide, take a look at this post

Stay savvy in 2020

That’s it for part two.

Next week, Chay will be sharing his three picks which all share an element of multiplayer. (No prizes for guessing which award-winning game might be included.)

In the meantime, you can stay up to date by signing up to our newsletter. And if you think we’ve missed any ‘simple’ masterpieces from this list, tweet us, and we’ll consider adding them on 🙂

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