Game Study: Eets Munchies

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Klei Entertainment hasn’t really hit with the Eets franchise. Sure, it’s PC debut game Eets was well received, and Eets: Chowdown on XBLA seems to have done well enough critical, but the series hasn’t exactly become a flagship franchise for Klei. But, that didn’t stop them from working on a new one. I actually picked up Eets Munchies on an early-access Beta when it was part of a Humble Bundle, but I never got around to it. Then I noticed it suddenly launched a few days ago on Steam, so I figured I’d give it a try.

The Art Is Adorable. Reminds Me Of Something You'd See In A Cartoon Network Cartoon.

The Art Is Adorable. Reminds Me Of Something You’d See In A Cartoon Network Cartoon.

It’s not a TERRIBLE game, especially given it’s 7 dollar price tag. However, I can’t help but feel like the Apple store release would be better, since some of the gameplay mechanics feel better suited for touchscreen controls instead of mouse clicks.

It’s a simple puzzle game that involves placing objects on a screen to help guide Eets to three treats, and eventually the exit. Some items cause Eets to move at a different pace, some are intractable objects in the environment for blowing things up or cannoning Eets to a higher platform. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before in Mario vs. Donkey Kong games or even in the classic Lemmings titles. It’s hand-drawn art does make it quite a bit more attractive than those games, and it’s Steam Workshop support allows for level creation and upload, so you do get extra content if you’re into player-generated stuff.

But, there were some things keeping Eets from being a good game. Some minor design flaws that are simply a matter of the game not being tweaked and optimized enough pulled it down to “average”. Which is extra sad given it’s early access release. Isn’t that what Early Access is FOR?! Fixing stupid flaws that break parts of your game? Oh well… let’s dig into those flaws so that designers can learn from them. They’re very important things to keep in mind.

-1- 

Physics Consistency 

As physics engines advance and become easier to use, we have seen a huge increase in attention to physics in games. With Valve’s Half-Life and Portal games really setting a bar, a lot of puzzlers lately have relied on physics to build new gameplay mechanics. But if you are going to rely on physics, for fuck’s sake keep them CONSISTENT!

Nothing is more irritating than doing the same action five times and getting different results. This wouldn’t be AS bad of a problem if it wasn’t essential to some of the puzzles working. Occasionally, I’d drop an item or two items would interact and they wouldn’t do the same thing they did the last time I tried the puzzle.This would sometimes flat-out render a level unfinishable, forcing an unnecessary restart.

If your level can become broken because an item takes an unexpected bounce (especially one that isn’t controlled by the player), it’s bad design. Your level shouldn’t be able to naturally become unplayable. So make sure to test your physics to make sure they keep a level of consistency, especially level-generated physics reactions.

-2-

Click-Boxes + Movement

This is one of those things I think would work a bit better on a touch screen device, but it is still an oversight during PC development.

There are a few items in the game that, once placed or while occurring naturally in the puzzle, can be clicked to cause an effect. A beehive that shoots a bee, for instance. Or in the case of real frustration: a little elephant that inflates when you click on it. This can be used to bounce objects around, and can also alter where Eets walks.

In one level in particular, I had to “juggle” inflated elephants. I had to keep one afloat while moving others out of the way of Eets path. It’s a neat puzzle IN THEORY, except one really frustrating element: it was INCREDIBLY easy to miss the elephant I was juggling.

fuuuu

Annoying Level Is Annoying

When an object is moving up and down, and you have to quick move your mouse left to right, it’s already annoying enough, but clicking on something on a handful of pixels wide is also annoying. The one to the right of Eets is fully inflated, and the others are in their resting state. Clicking on one of those is annoying when it’s moving and you’re in a hurry.

You may be asking “But what about the big dotted circle”. Yeah, you’d THINK you could click anywhere in that circle. The circle is just there to POINT OUT things that you can click. As are the fingers, which you’ll notice aren’t even pointing at the object itself. That’s two different things that makes you think you can click anywhere, but I assure you: you have to click the object itself.

This could have been easily remedied by making it anywhere in the circle. If you’re going to have your player quickly click on things, make sure they have a slightly more forgiving click-box. Clicking tiny objects with accuracy really isn’t a gameplay challenge people will enjoy, trust me.

-3-

Split-Second Timing

As you play the game, you unlock bonus challenge puzzles. And these puzzles are EVIL.

Most all of them are heavily reliant on timing. Such precise timing at times that it’s almost a matter of luck more than skill. Mixed with having to move around and hit multiple things at the right time, it made some of these puzzles unbearable even after you knew what to do. Timing is fine, but try to be a bit more generous than millisecond exacting clicks on multiple targets.

Oh, and some of those bonus levels? Combine ALL THREE of these problems. I had timing puzzles with stupid physics, timing puzzles with stupid physics AND having to quick-click on the tiny elephant to inflate… mixing all three of these problems together absolutely ruined some of these puzzles for me. It was painful because I felt like I wasn’t losing by my own fault, but the game was simply not doing what it was supposed to.

So, if you’re gonna design a game with any of these mechanics, you may want to look out for these points. While these may feel like a good way to make the game just a bit more challenging, it’s also an easy way to make the game feel unfair and frustrating just for the sake of frustration.

Unfortunately, I just can’t recommend Eets because these problems are irritating, and the game just doesn’t excel in any other area to really make up for it. If you really want a casual puzzler, there are better ones out there.

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