Stay an engaging balancing act of actions and reactions

Posted: August 13, 2009 in Puzzle

Balance…something we all strive for to a certain degree, but which is usually difficult to maintain. In many ways, this a big reason I am a puzzler at heart because it’s all about mental balance. A new casual game called Stay is not only about balance, but about reacting to a constantly changing situation. While you would think that dropping items on a seesaw is mundane, you’d be surprised at how engaging the gameplay can be. In fact, I bet that most who give Stay a try will find themselves surprisingly smitten with its simplicity.

Designed to be played in short spurts or even longer ones if time permits, the game is simple: at the beginning of each of the 5 phases, a red object is placed in the middle of the seesaw. The objective is to keep that object on the wobbly seesaw for as long as possible, all while blocks drop from above. The physics used for the balance as well as the movement of blocks are well implemented and behave as they should. The game has three levels of difficulty—easy, medium, and hard—as well as a regular and survival modes. Regular mode involves keeping an object on the seesaw, while Survival mode takes away the object leaving you with the sole task of keeping the seesaw level for as long as possible.

The blocks come in a variety of shapes and size each with their own unique attributes.
Green block—basic boring block that won’t hurt anyone unless you screw up by overloading one side
Magenta block—expandable block that will double in size once it lands on the seesaw
Skull block—imprinted with a skull will explode creating seesaw chaos
Magnet block—attracts and pulls blocks towards it with its personality
Shrinko block—miniaturizes blocks it initially touches

Presented in 2D, the game has a certain character to it combining a visually minimalistic appearance with the personality of a children’s game filled with simple geometric shapes in basic colors. The jazzy soundtrack is reminiscent of something you would hear in a Charlie Brown cartoon—upbeat and pleasant to the ears. The graphical simplicity works well for Stay, although I did find myself longing for different backgrounds which would further add a different feel to the game.

In a way, you control your own fate, and that of the red object sitting on the seesaw. Controls are overly simple and not difficult. By tapping the screen, a shape will appear from that spot and drop onto the seesaw. You control where these blocks drop, and an indicator in the upper left corner even provides a glimpse into the next block in line. There is a timer that counts down so if you choose to drop a block, it will drop randomly. The game is additionally challenging because of the attributes of the different blocks. For example, innocuous green blocks are easy to place, but magenta blocks and shrinko blocks can create certain havoc by disrupting what I call the seesaw balance continuum. Magenta blocks will land, double in size and knock other blocks off the seesaw, while Shrinko blocks will shrink blocks it comes in contact with. What these blocks do is create an imbalance in weight and generate forces that potentially throw the entire seesaw off kilter.

As I mentioned, everything from the art of balance to the physics are spot on. In later phases, you’ll be balancing two and even three red objects on the seesaw which obviously is intended for the balance gurus out there. What the game lacks is sound effects for the blocks which would obviously add to the realism. Another omission is an auto save which hopefully is added in the future, but because of the casual pick-up-and-play approach of the game (a game typically lasts only a few minutes), it shouldn’t be considered a deal breaker by any means.

While the objective is intuitively simple, and how difficult is it to understand balancing an object on a seesaw, Stay still provides a fun and engaging game that is easy to control, yet to difficult to actually succeed for an extended for an extended period of time. You’ll be surprised by how a quick game can turn into several.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (great time waster with a simple, yet challenging concept; intuitive gameplay with zero learning and with just enough character)

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