Having grown up in the heyday of DOS, I know my way around a command line, but there's just something inherently satisfying about seeing what you want and clicking to interact with it directly.
So I was initially a little thrown when I first played Areas, a simple-looking but ultimately complex, addictive and atmospheric shmup by Ridiculous. There is no text to be had in the menus, only icons, which are easy enough to figure out. And you don't click on them, or anything, throughout the game. If you want to interact with something, mouse over it and be patient, and it will unfold for itself.
But if that were the only trick up this game's sleeve, I wouldn't have been justified in using all those glowing adjectives in the previous paragraph. The gameplay itself is a great blend of action and strategy (and maybe a little luck).
A kind of spiritual successor to Gimmie Friction Baby in both gameplay and atmosphere, Areas pits you (a ship) against an army of ever-expanding white circles. If you destroy a circle, it may leave behind one of the titular areas. Shoot your gun or pass your ship through one of these areas to receive a temporary bonus. In early levels, the areas do the run-of-the-mill stuff like making your shots bigger and shielding you from the inexorable, crushing encroachment of the circles. As the game progresses, though, the areas get more creative and more varied, keeping the gameplay interesting and ramping up the difficulty.
I don't want to give away too many variations, as part of the fun of the game is discovering what new areas you have to work with on the next level, but I will say two words to whet your appetite: Laser shotgun.
Analysis: The black-and-white, line-based graphics work perfectly with the gameplay. The music also greatly enhances the game's atmosphere... for about ten minutes, after which you're grateful for the ability to turn it off.
I did have a few minor criticisms. Since the controls are all based on the mouse, you move the cursor further from your ship to move, closer to your ship to shoot and directly on top of your ship to pause. But the lines between shoot, move and pause aren't clearly defined, so there's initially a lot of shooting when you want to move and pausing when you want to shoot before you get the hang of it. Aside from that and a few nigh-unwinnable levels (level 10 and I still aren't on speaking terms), this seems like a game destined to make a lot of people late for a lot of meetings. The designer has certainly mastered Zen and the art of "one more game."
And without any clicking, too. Who would have thought?