The art lover's guide to downloadable games

Linger in Shadows

For $3, it's tough to say no to anything remotely intriguing that's only a button click away. Still, it seems inevitable that many PSN purchasers were confounded by their seemingly thrifty indulgence. Labeled as interactive art, Linger in Shadows is a "Demoscene" project by Polish developer Plastic, a jarringly surreal seven-minute interactive film…of sorts. The paint-shaded visuals defy any expectation, even enabling minimal camera control and temporal manipulation by tilting and shaking the controller. And therein lies the puzzle -- to pore over those seven minutes again and again, and the scenes slyly tucked between them, to find hidden sigils to "complete" the experience and unlock trophies. Wonderfully creative and wholly unique, and for all but the cheapest of asses, quite the bargain.

Great Game, Great Art, or Both?
It's oddly addicting indulging Linger in Shadow's only game-like, find-the-picture element, but it doesn't last long. The real fascination lies in that of a near-inexplicable experimental film, a must-watch for its visual artistry and refreshingly enigmatic proceedings.

PixelJunk Monsters

Despite being one of the less traditionally artistic games on this list, PixelJunk Monsters seems to bear the timelessness of good art, as many of us are playing it more now than ever (over a year since its release). Though admittedly, that longevity speaks more to the perfectly-tuned tower defense dynamic than the charming tribal visuals and excellent soundtrack (that somehow never gets old). Still, if it wasn't so easy on the ears and eyes, would we really be able to keep coming back for more, trying to perfect those last few levels?

Great Game, Great Art, or Both?
It's tough to put a finger on why PixelJunk Monsters is so maddeningly addictive, but much of its initial allure lies in its art design. Q Games have quickly becomes a developer of distinction, as much for their striking designs as their time-tested, subtly spun game concepts.


Thatgamecompany's second PSN game -- following flOw -- finds a much wider berth between the conceits of traditional game elements, and those that speak to a more creatively discerning audience. Guiding a cluster of flower petals whipping over windswept fields -- once again with motion control -- players are invited to revel in organic exhilaration, set against a surprisingly…existent narrative. The idea of controlling the wind instead of the petals themselves is a truly inventive stroke, complemented in kind by verdant technicolor fields and a stunning sensation of flight.

Great Game, Great Art, or Both?
It's easy to enjoy doing next to nothing in Flower, thanks to luxurious painterly art direction and a handful of simple, satisfying movement options. But for those who want something more to do, a very real challenge can be had by collecting every petal in each of the stages; certainly reliant on exquisite visuals, but flexible enough to be enjoyed at many levels of interaction.

Closing Sentiments
It's easy to find true artistic merit in games these days, and that's perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the last few console generations. It can exist with even less restraint in downloadable games -- including tons we didn't get to, like Nintendo's Art Style WiiWare games, the minimalist neon glory of Geometry Wars 2, the goopy fun of World of Goo, the sparse grace of N+, and PSN's curious EyeToy experiment, Tori-Emaki -- is all the more exciting, and speaks to many of the culturally positive elements of our entertainment medium of choice.

For our money, time, and critically discerning eye, it doesn't get much better than Braid and PixelJunk Monsters -- both truly great games from their nuts and bolts alone, and simply complemented to the Nth degree by excellent aesthetic choices and inspired design. But whether you think games are art or not is thankfully becoming less and less relevant -- great games are everywhere, regardless of the level upon which you choose to enjoy them.

Feb 10, 2009

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