One of my favourite things about writing app reviews is the amount of cool new things I’m exposed to daily. It goes well beyond software, and I often learn about really cool projects simply because I’ve been exposed to unique designers and their interesting projects.
One of those exact situations happened recently with Neven Mrgan, a designer who believes in the end product and not the means (and yes, that’s how you spell his name). I like his work. As it turns out, he has released a new game on both iOS and Android called Blackbar that’s… Well, it’s unlike any game I’ve ever played. Read on to find out more about it.
Blackbar isn’t your typical game. There’s no movable character. You’re not running around from level to level. It’s more of a puzzler, and an odd one at that. But really, what Blackbar feels like is an interactive story. Sort of. In case you can’t tell, it’s pretty unique.
Sorry to spoil the first puzzle, but this demonstrates the premise. The game is available for both phones and tablets.
Blackbar is all about letters. You, the player, are receiving letters that have gone through censorship control. Certain words have been highlighted in black — words that the government has deemed too sensitive. Your goal in the game is to correctly guess the words that are missing. Once you’ve done that, you’re able to progress to the next letter.
The game has a couple twists up its sleeve, though. The story unfolds from an interesting perspective: although you presumably write letters back to your friend, you never see what you’ve written. Half of the story is inherently missing, which makes the game even more puzzling on occasion. The other twists involve the story itself, which I want to avoid spoiling since it’s the main attraction. Suffice it to say that it’s very interesting.
The game mixes letters from your friend with letters from the censors. You can practically feel the tension.
This is the sort of game that lends itself well to a mobile device. There are virtually no buttons, save for the Previous and Next buttons at the bottom of a letter. The game is delivered in small, bite-sized chunks perfect for commuters and washroom breaks (it sounds gross, but let’s be honest, we’ve all been there). The illusion is pretty good too. I’m not always fond of the way that Android renders typography, but some of Android’s quirks lend themselves well to a game focused on typewritten letters. It feels very honest. That’s an odd way to describe a game, but from a design perspective, it looks how paper should: Imperfect but highly-readable.
But What Is It?
It’s hard to really describe this as a game. It’s not forward-thinking like some pixel pushers are, but it’s not a traditional puzzler. Its addictive, but only because decoding a difficult letter is challenging. It’s certainly not addictive in the same way that Tetris is addictive.
No matter what you think of it, there’s no denying the game’s relevance.
Whatever you want to call it, Blackbar is very timely. In the wake of the NSA drama and Edward Snowden, it feels like a statement of some sort. It doesn’t make light of the situation, and somehow feels oddly prescient. What if the world ends up going this direction? At what point does Blackbar stop being a game and start becoming a reality? For some of us, that’s a scary world. For people in other less-privileged countries, it’s already the world they live in.
Who Is This for?
Well, politics aside, Blackbar tells a very good story. It might offend some users, but I’m admittedly very fond of the way the game is inventing its own rulebook. The topic is sensitive and you probably already know whether or not Blackbar is for you. But if you’re like me, maybe you feel like we need reminders of what a dystopian future could look like.
Blackbar is smart, well-designed, and I don’t hesitate to recommend it to people looking for an inventive, bold puzzler that’s not afraid to be honest.