Catch-22 review

Catch-22 is a new Facebook game from independent Dutch developer Mango Down. The game was originally created during the 48-hour Global Game Jam 2012, and won first prize in the regional and national events. It was also featured as one of Penny Arcade’s showcase of independently-developed games, the PAX 10.

Catch-22 is a game with a very simple premise. Two colored balls orbit a metallic planet in opposite directions, and the player must ensure that they do not collide with one another while collecting floating golden orbs. When all of the golden orbs have been collected by one ball, the player takes control of the other and must repeat the process. The twist is that as the player plays, the game records their movements and jumps, so as soon as play switches to the other ball, the player is effectively competing against themself as they struggle to avoid the movements they made just a few moments ago. The aim of the game is simply to survive as long as possible and attain a high score.

The Facebook version of the game features no explicit monetization or social features, though the game certainly has scope for both. There is a lot of white space around the game canvas, for example, ripe for exploiting with advertising as an additional income stream — though the game itself doesn’t particularly lend itself to currency or item purchases. The “score attack” nature of the game also seems like it would benefit significantly from the social network’s ability to post high scores in the Activity and News Feeds, but again, this possibility is not embraced.

The reasoning behind these decisions is simple: Mango Down is not treating the Facebook edition of Catch-22 as its own discrete product or revenue stream; rather, it is handling it as a free “demo” version that will hopefully entice players to pay for the soon-to-be-released iOS version. However, even this is not handled particularly well at present — the game canvas contains nothing but the game itself, with no link to the App Store or even a page of information for players to refer to. In order for the Facebook version of the game to be a truly effective marketing tool, it would make sense for the developers to include this as a bare minimum. To further improve its reach, taking advantage of Facebook’s built-in score sharing mechanics would assist with viral promotion. There’s no need to start bugging the player with “Share” dialogs, of course, but making their friends aware that the game exists would seem to make sense, particularly as developer Guus Hoeve noted at the recent PAX Prime that Facebook is a key part of getting independent developers’ games to go viral.

Monetization and reach issues aside, Catch-22 is a simple and effective game. Its “one-button” control method and quick-fire play sessions make it ideal as a web (and, for that matter, mobile) game, and it is extremely well-presented, with smooth, attractive graphics and a haunting ambient soundtrack. Once Mango Down gets the systems in place to attract users to the Facebook version and then direct this traffic towards sales of the mobile version of the game, Catch-22 will hopefully establish a successful model for other independent game developers to follow — it’s just not quite there yet.

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Using Facebook as a means to drive traffic to a paid mobile version is an excellent idea; unfortunately, this game, as good as it is, hasn’t quite nailed the formula just yet.