While most casual games are not known for having stories, some have very enjoyable ones! Some developers actually take the time to add a fun story to their light games. Shocking, I know.
While the exact definition of what makes a “casual game” varies, everyone knows one when they see one. They’re the games you play on your iPad when you’re bored. They’re the games you can play on your Android phone during your break. They’re your gateway drug to more challenging games. When you can’t be in Hyrule, or Lordran, or the Tower, these are the small games that you can easily pick up and put down.
Say what you will about casual games, but it would be tough to argue that they’re noted for story. Angry Birds? Cooking Mama? Temple Run? “Context” might as well be a dirty word for those games. But sometimes you get a game that actually tries to pack a good tale in with its light gameplay. Here are a few casual game series that deliver on story.
Heroes of Hellas
This is a Match-3 game, as in the same style of Bejeweled. Align your expectations accordingly. In this series, you’re the hero of the Greeks, tasked with doing work for the gods. This means you have to retrieve valuable artifacts and help rebuild parts of Greece devastated by divine battles. All your tasks shall be completed by matching gemstones together.
The gods deign to address you personally and occasionally assist you in your challenges. Their powers are the game’s version of bonuses. In any other game, this would be a thin story, but it feels almost too glorious for a Match-3 game. The familiarity of the Greek gods makes the whole scenario feel appropriately grandiose without much dialogue or setup whatsoever. I like to imagine that this is the world of God of War about four hundred years before the birth of Kratos, for humor if nothing else.
If Match-3 games are your thing to begin with, then this is a series you should check out. It’s not the most challenging in the genre, but it’s pretty and has relaxing music. The fact that it even has a story is also a charming novelty.
If Sam Spade existed in a cheerier, alternate universe of The Wolf Among Us, this is what his adventures would look like. Dark Parables is an adventure-lite series of games about fairy tales. Specifically, it’s set close to the modern day and stars a nameless detective tracking down the characters from fairy tales to find out what really happened to them. It’s a simple premise, but the real beauty of the series is its literacy.
These games go far beyond the usual stable of handsome princes and clever princesses, though those characters are present and accounted for. There are also several references to more obscure fairytales, such as “Donkeyskin,” “The Snow Daughter and the Fire Son,” and several different variations on the Cinderella story. Those references went right over my head the first time I played the games.
It’s actually kind of cute that the series has “Dark” right in the name. There’s nothing dark about this series. The stories, while not as light as the Disney fare with which we’re all more familiar, are still cheery and light.
The series’ other great claim on your attention is its art, which looks like the offspring of a Rococo painting and a jewelry store. It’s gaudy and not usually to my taste, but I give it points for being distinctive.
This series has been oft-imitated in the last few years, especially since Big Fish Games successfully sold their first collector’s edition for $20 with MCF: Dire Grove. For those who aren’t familiar with BFG’s sales practices, a collector’s edition has about 20% more content than the regular games but is sold for twice as much. Perhaps I’m a sucker, because I’ve bought every last one of them.
Mystery Case Files is, despite the title, not really a mystery series. Instead, it stars a detective who travels around England attempting to root out paranormal evils. The first big hit was Ravenhearst, which was about the detective’s attempts to exorcise a haunted mansion at the behest of the Queen of England. It really hasn’t gotten any less loopy since.
MCF actually has a central story arc, if indeed “arc” is the correct word. The games settings are scattered, from a snowed-under village to the Louisiana bayou. But there aren’t very many hidden-object games series that even make pretensions to having a continuous story. While I do find this series cheesy, I have seen worse…much worse. But that’s a discussion for another time.