When I first played the Turtles of Time — created by Dom Camus for our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition — I was not very impressed. I found the controls, strangely enough, a little too touchy and not responsive enough. The gameplay was a tad monotonous and, starting at Level 3, I found it oddly difficult to gain enough points to advance. Had it not been a contest entry, I would have left it for dead after one or two plays.
Let this be a lesson to aspiring game designers: make sure people know how to play your game.
As it turns out, I had the game completely misfigured. Despite its appearance, The Turtles of Time is not a rip-off of Blobular. In fact, it is a very different game altogether, one of careful planning and micromanagement rather than reckless bouncing hither and thither. There are two key game elements that should have been made clearer, either in some form of instruction screen, or through more careful game design.
First, orange and blue are not the only colors of flower that can be collected. It was not until a discussion with Dom in the comments section that I even came to realize that the appearance of blue flowers was not random as it had appeared to me. Whenever a flower grows between two orange flowers, it will come up blue. Likewise, if you grow a flower in between two blue ones, it comes up purple, and so on. By carefully cultivating your crop, you can grow flowers of higher and higher values, that accrue points much more quickly than simply rushing around and gobbling up all the blooms you can see.
Second, gaze deep into the turtle pool. See those fish? They are not just pretty decorations. They will follow your turtle if you get near enough to them, and you can gain points by leading them to the shrines that are on each level. The more you lead, the higher the point value per fish.
Taking these two facts into account, we now have a surprisingly intricate multitasking game, rich in possible strategies for maximizing your score. The replay feature also gains much more importance in light of these revelations. It takes some careful maneuvering to keep the turtles out of each other's way, in order to prevent loss of points by stealing a fish, or wrecking a cultivated garden, or even just by taking away the tempo bonus. Properly played, the game looks and plays like a well-oiled machine, or an award-winning marching band. It might even be possible (for someone with far more patience than I) to use 2 turtles to collaborate in garden cultivation.
I'm still not thrilled about the controls, but if you're moving at speeds where they become very unrealistic, you're probably going too fast anyway. I also think I might have been able to grasp the gardening concept on my own if the flowers grew back immediately instead of gradually (and randomly) over time - that might solve the problem of having to provide what would inevitably be an awkward instruction screen or tutorial.
All in all, The Turtles of Time provides everything we normally look for in a casual game: simple, fun, mostly polished, a variety of strategies, and adherence to the Replay theme, both in the inherent gameplay as well as in terms of replay value. You just have to look a little harder to find it all.
Jay - Since the competition entries went up in July, Dom has been busy working on a version of the game for Greenpeace to help promote its campaign to save some real turtles. Although the new version isn't up yet, you can find out more about their efforts by visiting the website for the Turtle Witness Camp, a campaign that aims to protect the Olive Ridley Turtle at its nesting site in Orissa, India.