I Hate Mikey Shorts
by Chris Jorgensen on December 12, 2013
I hate Mikey Shorts.
There, I said it. It's out in the open. I hate it. Now let me explain.
From a developer's perspective, Mikey Shorts is beautifully scoped. I played through the entire game fairly quickly. As advertised, Mikey can only do three things: run, jump, and slide. He encounters just a single type of antagonist, which serves only to pace back and forth and get in Mikey's way. He otherwise interacts with a mere two entities in the game, which are passively collected: coins and statues. Each of the six playable worlds is little more than a simple color variant off of the others. Though there is a large number of disguises that can be bought with the coins earned, Mikey himself is animated such that his head doesn't move, which makes overlaying those disguises simpler to code.
In short, let's count: six similar worlds, each with 4 levels; three playable actions; two collectibles; one antagonist. Without question, it's clear the developers had the mindset to stop feature creep in its tracks. I respect that... and I hate it. Because, quite frankly, they have gone ahead and done what every app designer preaches but rarely achieves. They made a true minimum viable product. There is nothing superfluous in the game. It should be held up as an example to follow, no sarcasm or hyperbole intended.
Compare this to any of the Cavorite games that we've made: three worlds (two of which are similar); 20 levels plus 1 unique boss level each; four playable actions (run, jump, spray, hang); eight to 20+ collectibles (depending on the game); and about 8-12 antagonists. I used to pride myself on keeping project scope in check. But it's pretty clear I've been thoroughly schooled in the MVP design department.
Now is that really enough to *hate* the game? Surely, there are other sublimely designed platformers that smack me in the face with their superior scope? The answers, respectively, are: no, that's not enough, and, yes, there are many games out there that Cascadia Games would do well to emulate. These other games, however, from Pizza Boy to Stardash offer something that I don't get from Mikey Shorts: challenge.
There was a time -- please put on your rose-tinted glasses for this portion of the blog -- when games were intentionally hard. Super Mario, Mega Man, and so forth provided value through challenge and repetition. Why are the Cavorite games so stinkin' hard? Because I wanted them that way. I love that aspect of "retro" games. The Cavorite games were meant to be true to the frustration so many 30-something game developers experienced growing up with these games. I feel it makes part of the nostalgia more legitimate, something beyond just art style.
By contrast, Mikey Shorts isn't challenging... at all. Mikey can't die. Fall down a pit by mistake? Mikey will appear at the ledge right before the fall. The ledges themselves are exceedingly generous. Mikey can almost levitate if he's even remotely near solid ground. As mentioned before, the lone kind of antagonist can't hurt you. They are essentially moving stepping stools. The only thing that stops your progress toward the end of the level is forgetting to touch every statue before a checkpoint. There's no risk to anything. I find it boring. (I know many folks enjoy the time trial / leaderboard aspect of it. But that's never been a big appeal to me for any game. I couldn't care less about how quickly some random Internet person beats a level versus my own time.)
Of course, polished and boring combined aren't reason enough to hate a game either. But here's the catch: Mikey Shorts (and its sequels) are undoubtedly more beloved by game reviewers and App Store customers than anything Cascadia Games has thus far offered. Let me be clear, that love isn't undeserved. Few games are so well polished.
It's not jealousy I'm feeling here. It's an unwanted revelation. The near universal love showered onto the game means this: there is an audience of retro platformer fans that is bigger than the one I've tapped into and they don't want a game like Cavorite. They want something easy to beat. They want a shortcut to what every kid gamer in the 80s and 90s had to earn the hard way. Mikey Shorts can be completed without any anxiety or disaster. There is no victory earned, only victory given.
Mikey Shorts has without a doubt demonstrated that most iOS gamers, even those who think they crave a retro experience, really just want a stroll through the park and not a mountain to climb. And I want to build mountains.
So I hate Mikey Shorts.