Would calling it “Animal Crossing for stoners” be redundant?

Banja is an old but still good and mostly unknown online game in which you guide the eponymous character around the island of Itland, solving King’s-Quest-style puzzles and playing minigames. The game has a sort of “proto-Animal-Crossing” feel to it, because many events in the game rely on “real-world” time; the game’s 12 chapters are only available one each month, certain puzzles are time-based, and can only be solved over the course of several days, there are scheduled events, and there are daily events, like Sydney, the hovercraft-riding, K.C.Slider-esque DJ who gives you a new record everyday. Unlike Animal Crossing, however, Banja seems designed to be played casually; your “money” is jars of honey that are periodically created by the bees who live in your refridgerator, and once you’ve spent them all you’re done for the day (in fact, you can’t even save them up much, since they spoil after a while), and after about 15 minutes of playing you’ve usually done all you can do for the next 12 hours, even if you’re a completist and hunt down all the plants and animals necessary to fill your sketchbooks. The game’s dialogue system is especially inspired; characters speak in a completely iconic text, and all other text is kept to a bare minimum, so no matter what your native language is you will never have any problems figuring out what’s going on or what you have to do. (Incidentally, the game’s creators are French.) It also features some of the catchiest music and sound effects known to man.

There are two elements to Banja that make it especially surprising: first is that it was written entirely in Flash 5 (except, of course, for the backend, which is probably php), and second is that its exploratory, non-violent, casual gameplay actually pre-dates Animal Crossing.

If you like Animal Crossing, or if you just want to waste 15 minutes on something fun every day or so, you should go check it out. Especially now, since the game just reset (as it does every year) back to the first chapter, so you can get in right at the beginning. Just try to ignore the occassional oblique pot references if you’re normally offended by that sort of thing.

Update: And, of course, just as I post this it looks like their server is down. Hopefully it’ll be back up tomorrow.

Update update: It looks like the problem is actually just that it doesn’t like Firefox; it loaded just fine when I tried it again with IE. Maybe they’ll fix that, but since the creators have disbanded and the game appears to be pretty much running on autopilot it’s pretty doubtful.

I do this sort of thing a lot.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve shown my appreciation for things by creating variants of them. When I was a tiny monkey, my room was filled with drawings of my own ideas for Pacman mazes, Donkey Kong levels, and elaborate “Castle Greyskull alternatives” made out of cardboard boxes and random odds and ends. I have a box somewhere full of original comic book characters I created when I was 12 and discovered comic books, and when I rediscovered and watched too much Mazinger Z a couple years ago, I outlined the entire first season of my own giant robot anime, but fortunately didn’t start trying to animate it. This blog itself is the result of my reading too many video game blogs and thinking “I could do that too, but differently”. I’m sure that most people do the same thing to some degree, but probably not many people do it to the same degree that I do. I also do my best to make my work different enough that it feels “inspired by” the original material (and I will always give credit to my inspirations) and not just “derivative”.

Since I enjoyed Every Extend immensely, it naturally followed that I was compelled to create a similar game. Pretty Pretty Bang Bang is the result of that “inspiration”, and I’m happy enough with it (and feel that it’s different enough from its inpiration) that I’m going to try to make a multiplayer “real” version of it for XBox 360 Live Arcade. Give it a whirl, tell me what you think of it, and hopefully I’ll be able to maintain focus long enough that you’ll see it on XBLA sometime next year.

Damn, that felt really new games journalism-ish, didn’t it? I promise I won’t mention myself at all in the next post.