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Video games have acquired a reputation over the years of enabling and encouraging wanton acts of violence or other immorality. The latest target has been the massively fun Grand Theft Auto franchise, but other games such as Postal, Doom, and Mortal Kombat have all taken their turns as the box in the white-knuckled grip of a crusader for video game censorship.

I am most certainly not in the camp of people who wring their hands at violent video games. I mention this because Below the Root, the game that has left the most lasting impression on me, is so wonderfully pacifistic and ethical that I don't want to undersell its qualities by giving the appearance of having only played games with a wholesome agenda.  In my world of Carmageddon, Smash TV, and Mutant League Hockey, I still thought Below the Root was the bee's knees.

btr1

Released in 1984 for the Commodore 64, Apple II, and IBM PC, Below the Root takes place after the Green Sky Trilogy, a series of fantasy novels by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Not entirely satisfied with the way she had concluded the series, and after discussing the concept of computer games with a programmer named Dale Disharoon, Snyder collaborated with Disharoon and an artist named Bill Groetzinger to create an adventure game that would serve as the ultimate resolution to the trilogy.

Presentation

pacman_2600
Pac-Man on the Atari 2600, for comparison
 
It's hard to try to explain how enthralling the graphics on a game were in the 1980s when so many have seen an Xbox 360 in action, but I had only the Atari 2600 to compare it to. The version I played was for the Tandy 1000 (a roughly IBM PC-compatible system sold by Radio Shack; hugely popular at the time).  

Although the Tandy 1000 was capable of 16 color output to a TV screen, the monitor connected to the system I was playing on produced only a modest 4-color CGA palette of white, black, cyan and magenta for Below the Root to work with. The game made very effective use of dithering and for the most part it was possible to tell walls apart from tables apart from doors. I found it aesthetically pleasing even though Below the Root was undeniably better looking on the other computer systems to which it was released.

btr2_c64
On the Commodore 64, you'd start out like this...
 
btr2
...but this is what it looked like on my computer
 
Another limitation of the computer I played on was the tinny PC speaker. It offered two choices: silent or blasting, the latter being particularly noticeable when Below the Root would suddenly play fifteen-second musical interludes. The Commodore 64 version was far more versatile with its sound, going so far as to play wooshing wind noises when your player was falling. If you wanted sophisticated noises like that on the PC you had to make them yourself.

Plot

Beyond the lush atmosphere Below the Root plunges you into, the plot is rather intriguing. There are two races in Green-sky: Kindar and Erdling. Kindar dwell in trees, have banned emotions such as anger and sorrow, follow vegetarian diets and pacifistic lifestyles, and consume narcotic berries. Erdling tend to live in caves and on the ground, accept their emotions, eat roast rabbit as well as plants and fruit, possess the secret of fire, and are skilled with jewelry and metal -- apparently going so far as to build a steam-powered engine and railway.  The engine and railway, sadly, don't show up in the game.

The novels had to do with the discovery of Erdling society by the Kindar, the subsequent lifting of the ban on interaction between the ground and the trees, and the strife between the newly joined peoples. By the time the video game takes place, some Erdling live in the trees and some Kindar on the ground. But there's a problem; many among both the Kindar and the Erdling still oppose reconciliation of the two cultures. Worse still, the man leading the way towards reconciliation is gone and presumed dead. In a vision, a former high priestess of the Kindar hears the words "The Spirit fades, in Darkness lying. A quest proclaim - the Light is dying." With that, your character is sent on his or her way to figure things out.

Heady stuff, especially for a computer game based on a series of young adult novels.  

Gameplay

btr3
I did try jumping on these, a la
Super Mario Bros.  It doesn't work.

 
The gameplay of Below the Root is quite enjoyable.  There are items that can be picked up, purchased, or sold.  There are characters to interact with, some who will offer you items or a place to rest, others who will attempt to rob or abduct you to thwart you in your mission. and yet others who help explain your mission and increase the power of your spirit.  This spirit power is used to do things like read thoughts (which can uncover useful information or hostility) or teleport -- all of these powers are necessary to complete the game. Most of the skill involved is being able to jump over gaps, or the occasional spider or snake.

The world is large and varied, giving a sense of exploration.  An essential item you start out with, called a shuba, permits your character to perform a controlled glide in the air. This game mechanic is used frequently and quickly becomes second nature, whether to prevent taking damage from a fall or to move between trees.

Below the Root allows you to play one of a number of characters: male or female, child or adult, Kindar or Erdling. The reaction of the people in the game changes depending on your character, which can affect how much support you get in the form of free items or places to rest. There are other subtle differences as well, such as the foods available to Kindar characters and Erdling characters. Kindar react poorly to roast rabbit.

Other thoughts

I didn't fully appreciate all of the nuances of the game until I completed it.

For example, and to my initial disappointment, you did not receive a sword to cut your way through the game's obstacles. Your character couldn't even really die. If you ran out of health you were returned to your home and would lose some game time (your quest had to be completed in 50 days.)

Interestingly, there comes a time in the game where you DID find a sword, and by that time it wasn't even a thought in my head to use it for anything but cutting brambles. It was apparently possible to take lives with it but doing so would profoundly affect your character's spirit, rendering the game unwinnable.

It is also impossible to steal. Many adventure or role playing games encourage taking anything that isn't tied down. Below the Root encourages you to pay for items in stores, at least when they aren't given to you or found somewhere outdoors. I also somehow discovered that the game disk was copy protected, so the lessons apparently continue outside the game.

btr4
I'm sensing... suspicion.  I shall need
to go elsewhere for free purple bread.

 
The telepathy you use (called "pensing" in the game) not only is directly useful to avoiding problems or discovering information, but it gradually uncovers the prejudice and tension between the Kindar and Erdling. Sometimes people don't directly wish you harm, they're just going to withhold help because of how you look. This becomes evident if you had played the game as a Kindar and decided to try as an Erdling character next, or vice-versa; a different set of houses would become useful to you, though there were some folks that would help anybody.

I think this is the reason Below the Root still stands out to me: somehow it didn't cram its messages down my throat even though they were woven throughout the fabric of the game. Rather, it slowly dawned on me that there was something larger the game was trying to convey than simply finishing its quest. Just an amazing piece of work from start to finish.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Gamers on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 09:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, Spiritual Organization of Unapologetic Liberals at Daily Kos, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for reading (11+ / 0-)

    Any other unconventional video games you folks were into growing up, or even today?  

    (Might make a good diary submission to Daily Kos Gamers if your memories go on for more than a paragraph or two!)

    •  Utopia (6+ / 0-)

      on the intellivision always had a special place in my heart.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/..._(video_game)

    •  Black & White was interesting. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SoCaliana, ferment, pot, MrBigDaddy, nomandates

      It was a "god game", but you could choose whether to be a benevolent god or a vengeful one, and whether your people would adore you or fear you.  Unfortunately, it had some serious issues with the computer I was using at the time, so I never finished it.  

      My favorite game franchise is "Civilization", and I do like that you can play it, and win, as a pacifist if that's what you want.  It also brings in ethics, in that the way you treat neighboring civilizations effects their attitude toward you.  Or, you can play as a ruthless, back-stabbing war monger, if you prefer.

      •  Love them both (7+ / 0-)

        Though I only made it partway through Black & White for the same reason.  Real bummer.

        One of the diary ideas I was knocking around was games for people who don't really play games.  Civilization came to mind because it's turn-based, easy to save and come back to later, and has enough depth to keep it interesting for years.  

        But even though it's technically easy to walk away from every Civilization session seems to turn into a marathon.

        •  Another thing I like... (6+ / 0-)

          ...about Civilization is the wide range of difficulty settings.  At the easiest level, even a beginner can probably finish the game.  When it starts seeming too easy, you just increase the difficulty.  I doubt I would have gotten so into the Civ games if not for that.  I don't find much entertainment in playing something where I can only get about 20% through the game unless I'm willing to invest countless hours getting really good at it.  Some of us just want to have a little relaxing fun every so often.

    •  Great diary. (7+ / 0-)

      One of my favorite unconvential games of todays gaming age is Mirrors Edge. It is a first person game where you do parkour (and some gunplay here and there) but most of the game is parkour. It is hard to explain but it is a beautiful game and it is only like $15 bucks now. It is on both consoles and the PC.

      It isn't perfect but it is very unique. The prospect of a sequel was low because it didn't sell as well as they hoped but rumors of a sequel being worked on have popped up lately.

      #occupywallstreet "Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave." -- Chris Hedges

      by pot on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 09:55:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  If you have a tolerance for very slow gameplay... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ferment, SoCaliana, trueblueliberal

      ....The Path by Tale of Tales in Belgium (available on Steam) might appeal to you. Or it might give you nightmares. Or both.

      The prologue quotes a slightly varied form of a ditty from the 1984 film The Company of Wolves,

      Little girls, this seems to say
      Never stop upon the way
      Never trust a stranger friend
      No-one knows where it may end
      As you're pretty, so be wise
      Wolves may lurk in every guise
      Handsome they may be
      Or brave, or kind -- never mind!
      Now as then, 'tis simple truth
      Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.

      Or as the tag line for the game reads,
      "There is one rule, and it has to be broken.
      There is one goal, and when you reach it, you die."

      The Path is structured around the Little Red Riding Hood tale, the darker original version rather than the one in kids' books today. You begin in an apartment in the city, choosing one of six sisters aged between seven and nineteen to play as, to take a bus into the forest and go to Grandmother's house. Oh, and don't leave the path.

      Follow the instructions to the letter, and you will be told you have failed. The girl you have been playing returns to the apartment and can be selected again. The game both forbids you and compels you to leave the path and strike out into the forest on either side.

      In the forest you find birds, patches of sunlight, ponds and boats. You find a wrecked car and an abandoned wheelchair, a stage with a piano and a ruin with bullet marks on the walls and cartridge cases scattered over the ground, a graveyard and a playground. Some places are significant to you and go into your "basket," others are shown to be for one of your sisters. You see another figure shadowing you, the Girl in White, who will play games with you and lead you in certain directions, and then disappear without warning. You have golden flowers to collect, an ironic nod to the conventions of gaming, and strange symbols that crowd the edges of the screen, hinting where you should go and what you will find there. And sooner or later, you will find your Wolf.

      Each girl has a different Wolf, and only the youngest one's is a real Wolf. The others include an angel-like figure, a sinister young man who is first seen dragging a carpet-wrapped bundle suspiciously like a corpse, a bored lumberjack, a girl almost identical to your own character, and a music teacher. You approach them, and enter into an ambiguous but usually vaguely sinister interaction: the youngest girl tries to ride her Wolf piggyback, the music teacher offers you a lesson, the sinister young man gives you a cigarette. Then the screen goes dark.

      You awaken sprawled on the ground at the gate to grandmother's house, in a pouring rainstorm. There is no place to go but the house, and as you enter, you lose most of your control over your character, which is led through a series of weird or chilling scenes that change according to the encounters you have had in the forest and the artifacts you have collected. The succession of images becomes quicker, nightmarish, and then -- apparently -- you are killed. The game returns to the apartment in the city, and you choose the next sister to take to grandmother's house.

      It is impossible to say much more without spoiling the game, but in the end, it loops back to its beginning -- the six sisters are all in the apartment again, waiting for your choice as to whom to play first. The "deaths" were not real... perhaps. There are a multitude of interpretations of what "really" happens; for what it's worth, I think that no one dies at all, that it is rather a symbolic journey through the stages of a single life and the rites of passage that lead from one stage of life to another, with the Wolves as each stage's characteristic folly or delusion and the "deaths" the conquest or leaving behind of that delusion.

      It's a weirdly fascinating game if you like it. Many don't; they hate it with a passion. But if you like it, the endless walking through the forest shadows and the odd things you find there won't leave you soon, or easily.

      I dance to Tom Paine's bones.

      by sagesource on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 04:41:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Congratulations on the Community Spotlight! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ferment, trueblueliberal

      You deserve it, ferment :)

      Keep playing...

      •  Thank you. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SoCaliana, trueblueliberal

        The text adventures diary really inspired me to dig into my gaming history a bit, as somebody who could never make it through the maze in Zork before the lantern ran out.

        I'm really glad to see people on here digging games, even the ones that haven't been popular in 25 years. I couldn't have asked for a better experience for my first diary up.

  •  nice write up (6+ / 0-)

    Loved it.

    I have been playing games since there has been games, somehow I must of missed this one.

  •  Insightful :) (5+ / 0-)

    I've never heard of this game.  You've piqued my interest!

    Great post, ferment...

  •  Below the Root (9+ / 0-)

    was my first (and only) computer game...and I loved it. Thank you for this lovely remembrance. When I got my first Mac in 1987, I gave the C-64 and BTR to a neighborhood child.

    •  Well I'm sure... (4+ / 0-)

      you made that kid's day. If not for Below the Root, then for all the other awesome stuff that came out for the C-64.

      Our first home computer was the VIC-20 (the Tandy 1000 was office equipment I was very generously allowed time on when I was maybe 6 or 7.) Came with a cartridge slot and I think we got the cassette storage later.  

      It was awesome because it had Atari 2600 joystick ports on it too, but now that I think about it we didn't have any joystick games for the system. Mostly used it to learn BASIC and write one or two awful homemade games of the "guess a number" variety.

  •  Anyone here playing Minecraft? (8+ / 0-)

    I'm playing this with my 7yo daughter (whose massively addicted to it).

    It's probably the most creativity inspiring game I've ever come across for kids and adults alike.  

  •  Is this game still available in some format? nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCaliana, ferment, nomandates

    Poverty = politics.

    by Renee on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 10:09:52 AM PDT

    •  There's a virtual Apple II site... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SoCaliana, ferment, nomandates

      ...that has it.  
      http://www.virtualapple.org/...
      You have to install an emulator plugin, though, which I haven't done, so I can't vouch for how it works.

      •  Thank you! Works great :) /nt (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ferment, nomandates
      •  It looks like they have a Java version too (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SoCaliana, nomandates

        Here.

        The relevant keys for the Apple II version are R=up, D-left, F=right, C=down, and SPACEBAR=trigger.  If you double-tap left or right your character will jump in that direction, then start running in that direction.  Just pressing the trigger in game will open up a menu that you use for all other actions besides jumping, walking and climbing.

        Make sure you take every item in the house you start in.  The shuba is a cloak that allows you to drift left or right in the air after you fall -- typically you'll drop or jump off of a tree branch then press left or right while falling.  It's possible to tear the shuba so it's good to carry more than one.

        The one drawback to playing the game like this is that you won't be able to save.  You might be able to with the emulator plugin, though I haven't tried it.

    •  There's also a downloadable version (4+ / 0-)

      here for us non-Apple users.  You can also play it online.

      It's a small file - as you would expect, given the limited storage capacity of any hardware at the time -- and it looks like the site has more of these.  Looks like a site I'll be busy with the next few days ;-)

      First they ignore you. Check. Then they laugh at you. Check. Then they fight you. Check. Then you win. Check back. Or, if you aspire to be a mensch, Check in.

      by caul on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 05:37:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "taking anything that isn't tied down" (5+ / 0-)

    The strangest example of that that I ever came across was in Fallout: New Vegas. You have both a reputation and a karma system in that game, and stealing owned items can get you into a lot of trouble if you're caught, but you can rob people's mailboxes right in front of them with no consequences. Even stranger, you can buy a shovel and indulge in a bit of grave robbery without anyone batting an eye.

    New Vegas isn't exactly a pacifist game -- there's no way you're going to talk your way through an encounter with a deathclaw or a feral ghoul, for instance -- but in less extreme situations you nearly always have less violent and more violent ways of going about things, and the less violent one is usually superior. It's an enormous world for a single-player game -- easily 120 hours or more for a single playthrough with all the add-ons. I might write something on it if anyone's interested.

    I dance to Tom Paine's bones.

    by sagesource on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 03:03:27 PM PDT

    •  Fun game (4+ / 0-)

      It was a definite improvement over Fallout 3 to have areas broken into factions, too.  There were quite a few ways to complete it, though I have to admit after spending as much time as it took to run through once I'm not coming back to Fallout: New Vegas anytime soon.

      It was a joy to play from beginning to end, though the insane time requirements on some of these RPGs are making me quit them halfway through or, lately, just skip them entirely.

    •  We are always interested in gaming diaries. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SoCaliana, ferment, martini

      I am currently writing about about first person games.

      #occupywallstreet "Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave." -- Chris Hedges

      by pot on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 04:51:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Ha, I saw a Youtube video this reminded me of (5+ / 0-)

      about the environmental destruction and financial ruin that Link from Zelda wreaks by slashing everything in sight to find hearts and money. :)

      15 years old and fighting like hell to make a difference, Tomorrowsprogressives.com

      by TomorrowsProgressives on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 06:06:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ferment, TomorrowsProgressives

        ....and one of the hardest things to get around -- why is all this stuff still lying around for your character to take? One of the DLC, Honest Hearts, has a fairish explanation of this in that the native peoples of the area have tabooed the old buildings and won't even go into them, but for the rest.... it's a puzzle. Under the circumstances, you should be hunting half the game to find a bobby pin.

        I dance to Tom Paine's bones.

        by sagesource on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 09:16:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting question, you have to wonder how (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ferment

          you can still find weapons :)

          15 years old and fighting like hell to make a difference, Tomorrowsprogressives.com

          by TomorrowsProgressives on Sun Oct 16, 2011 at 08:09:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Games sometimes address this... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ferment

            There's the "buildings are taboo so we don't mess with what's in them" explanation for the goodies in the New Vegas add-on Honest Hearts, and of course you pick a fair bit up off corpses, new or old (in New Vegas, the Legionary Assassins are veritable Santa Clauses). In game terms, you also behave like a kamikaze nutcase, charging off into the most dangerous areas to build up your XP and karma, not something the average farmer or rancher NPC would think was a sane thing to do if you just wanted to live a normal life and die of old age in such a world. One or two of the related problems have been explained as well -- as when Cass tells you the relative immunity of merchants is because "you don't fuck with the people who carry your supplies, and you don't fuck with the people who carry the mail" -- in other words, their immunity comes from their usefulness to the organized factions, which overrides the short-term gain you would have from killing and looting them all. Still, it would be better if more thought was given to details like this -- if, for instance, you had a unique safe-breaking tool, or information that others did not have.

            I dance to Tom Paine's bones.

            by sagesource on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 02:09:48 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Very cool (4+ / 0-)

    I'm a huge fan of classic games, but I've never heard of this one so thank for sharing.  I'll definitely check it out.

    The games I played in the 80s were actually much more mature and morally diverse and mature than games nowadays because it was a smaller industry.  Smaller developers could make money selling niche games.  Look at SSI's catalog, for example.  Now it's all such big business, and the costs of production are so high everything is done like a PG-13 summer blockbuster.  "Mature" has become boobs, blood and swearing instead of actual mature content which makes you think.  Hopefully this is changing a bit with Steam and the iOS/Android market giving smaller devs the ability to publish their games and get them out there.

  •  I loved this game (5+ / 0-)

    It was astonishingly cerebral and literary for a video game, and it got me hooked on the books.  It's hard to make a game that really reflects the underlying mood of a literary work, and Below the Root is a rare example of someone getting it bang on.

    It also had some pretty cool music, which was weirdly moody and poignant for a video game.  

    Linking to a news article is journalism in the same sense that putting a Big Mac on a paper plate is cooking.

    by Caj on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 03:24:14 PM PDT

  •  Goodness, I have thought of BTR several times in (5+ / 0-)

    the years since. My daughter, born in 1977, played and played that game. I sometimes played that game. I think it was one reason she grew up into the beautiful woman she is today. The other things on our Tandy at the time were a "Name the Capitols" game and a "Name the Constellation" game.
    Computers can be addicting and open up evil sometimes and so can games, but some games can help one think about humanity, the world and the universe and reach beyond.
    Thanks for the great memory on a cold Saturday afternoon.

    This you do to the least of these you do to ME- you know Politicook

    by TX Scotia on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 03:24:23 PM PDT

  •  Wow, this brought back memories! (5+ / 0-)

    I played Below The Root obsessively on my C-128 as a teen for countless hours.  I never did read any of the books, but the game filled me in on what I needed to know to play.  Thank you for bringing back memories of that great game.

  •  My brother and I (5+ / 0-)

    played this game together in the 1980s on our parents' Apple IIe.  It took a lot of thought, plus many weeks of trial and error, to complete the mission.  I still remember using the trencher beak and gliding with the shuba.

    My video game phase only lasted a few years, but one of my other favorites was Intellivision's "Utopia."

    Thanks for a trip down memory lane.

    A terrible beauty is born. --W.B. Yeats

    by eightlivesleft on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 08:09:32 PM PDT

  •  What a lovely story! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCaliana, trueblueliberal, ferment

    Both the game's premise, and moreso, your telling of it.  And while I grew up with a C64, I never heard of this one.  Apparently, I totally missd out!

    (mmm, Telengard....)

  •  Sounds like a the Time Machine inspired story. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trueblueliberal, ferment, Anjana

    Eloi and Morlocks.

    I think this is the reason Below the Root still stands out to me: somehow it didn't cram its messages down my throat even though they were woven throughout the fabric of the game.

  •  That sounds like a Wonderful Game. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ferment, TomorrowsProgressives

    People who decry video games for being vehicles of violence are certainly not looking around at the wide variety available.  In fact, one of my first clues to Fox News's dishonesty was their decrying the infamous "Lesbian Sex Scene" you can unlock in Mass Effect, going so far as using a banner at the bottom to say "SexBox 360".  Having seen this scene myself, I knew one saw a lot more skin on Fox Prime Time than you saw for that completed romance (and yes, it's a romance, not just two characters getting it on as the commentators implied).  

    Two of my favorite non-combative games are Elite Beat Agents and the Ace Attorney series.

    Elite Beat Agents is a fun music rhythm game where you need to hit the markers in time to the music to have the Agents of the game dance, somehow solving a great many problems, or inspiring others to solve their problems, such as a girl aspiring to be a Broadway actress or a old ship captain finally finding a deep sea treasure.  Where's the violence, the killing, the other horrible things video games harbor?  Nowhere to be found.

    The Ace Attorney series is a point and click adventure game that has you playing as a defense attorney, using logic and clues to not only prove your clients innocence, but snag the real culprit.  There's reference to violence, since you're solving murder mysteries, but the fun characters, catchy music, and surprisingly difficult puzzles make all the games in the series a ton of fun, with no violence taken on your characters part in saving the day.

    These are just a few games (for the DS, by the way), that I love that uses no violence at all.

    Remember! "Fan" is short for "Fanatic"!

    by Anjana on Sun Oct 16, 2011 at 10:19:34 AM PDT

    •  OBJECTION!!! :) nt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ferment

      15 years old and fighting like hell to make a difference, Tomorrowsprogressives.com

      by TomorrowsProgressives on Sun Oct 16, 2011 at 02:56:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  ditto (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ferment

      Agreed on Elite Beat Agents and Ace Attorney -- and I'd add the Katamari games for silly puzzle fun.  And the Layton games

      In them, you play the son of the King of All Cosmos, who has (for some reason or another) needed to create balls out of wadded up things.  So you start with a ball -- a katamari, rolling around picking up paperclips and candies and it grows until you're rolling up continents.  About the closest thing to violence is that you do roll up animals and people, but it's always implied that everyone is fine.   PS2 and PSP -- the PS2 games are better than the PSP one, but it's fun too.  

      The Professor Layton games are classic brainteasers with a cute plot wrapped around them; I wasn't as fond of them as most of my friends, but that's possibly because I'm a puzzle nut and I found them too easy.  

      Oh, and the first Ace Attorney game was released for iPhone -- the interface is pretty good, although I think the DS one is slightly better.

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