When The Bomb Goes Off,
Pop quiz. You have five seconds left to live. What do you do? Coming at it from a different direction, let's say you don't actually know you have five seconds left, but your impending mortality has not changed. What would you wish to be doing for those final five seconds? These are the kinds of questions you may find yourself pondering as you play When the Bomb Goes Off, an intriguing micro-game collection from Tom Sennett.
The bomb is going to go off. This can't be changed. It's going to go off in, oh, about five seconds, give or take nothing. This can't be changed either. Your task is simple: guide a bunch of individuals through their final five seconds of life before the bomb does go off. Whether or not they achieve their goals before all of existence evaporates in a violent mushroom cloud-shaped cluster of exothermic reactions taking place at cruelly and devastatingly high speed can be changed… it just probably doesn't matter very much.
You help the series of doomed little stick figures by first determining what it is they are trying to do, and then using the arrow keys to guide them to their goal. Sometimes the tasks are obvious and easy, like handing a bottle of ketchup to someone else, and sometimes, well, sometimes we find that our fated folks have something more complex in mind.
Can you get 100% by helping all of the stick figures attain their goals before being vaporized by the big one? Or will you (more likely) fail a few if not all of them? Look at the bright side. If you aren't successful, it's not like they're going to know, right?
Analysis: To use a phrase from our own Psychotronic, When the Bomb Goes Off has "morbid likability." Sure, most micro-game collections have a sort of inherent attractiveness to them, whether the cohesive center that binds them all is good or not. There's just something compelling about having less then ten seconds to learn what you are supposed to do, and then doing it.
But I don't think I've ever seen something quite like WTBGO. The basic concept, an impending apocalyptic explosion, is truly terrifying. However, Sennett gives the entire idea the absurdity treatment, making the prospect of global annihilation seem excessively cheerful, with whimsical stick figures and an insistent piano track reminiscent of the Keystone Kops and penny arcades of yesteryear. It's all enough to make you laugh, or at least grin.
And then something happens. Not in the game, mind you, the game remains the same no matter how many times you play it, which would seem a poor recipe for replay value, but somehow the percentage score at the end will keep you coming back for more. No, it's not the game that changes, but you. Or, more accurately, your perspective.
Maybe it will be the content of a task here or there, a sudden realization that at the end of the world this is the last thing a certain person will be doing. There are tasks that if you stop to think about them are utterly heartbreaking. They would be heartbreaking no matter what, but the complete finality of the game makes them even more so.
Or maybe it will just be a growing realization not tied to any one specific micro-game but instead an effect that is created by the sum total of everything you see. Perhaps it will seep in slowly, nothing more than a recognition that sometimes we take for granted far too much that the sun will rise again tomorrow, that all our fancy sciences have allowed us to grow smug with the fact that the sun is not a god prone to exploding if we don't sacrifice someone every full moon or something.
This is how When the Bomb Goes Off works on so many wonderful levels. It is a fun game, with controls that are alternately tight and loose based on the content of each scene. It is on its surface an almost absurd and funny game, the ultimate in gallows humor. And, if you let it, it will sneak up on you and provide something so much more profound.
I wish I had something to criticize here, something to prove that, if nothing else, I have not in fact been taken in so completely by this game. No, it doesn't have fancy graphics, but then, it's not supposed to. No, the controls aren't always pinpoint accurate and responsive, but then that's part of the territory with micro-games where you are changing up the entire game's world every five seconds. When the Bomb Goes Off is what it is, and it is itself so completely that any criticism would simply be irrelevant. Whatever effect it has on you is probably the exact effect it is supposed to have on you. An impressive accomplishment indeed.