Super Chop Games’ new iOs release Ephemerid is a musical game, but fortunately, very little of it involves tapping in time with the background music (Ugh. How is that a genre?). Instead, players explore a paper collage world of flowers, leaves, and snowflakes as a mayfly, using the game’s music as a guide.
Ephemerid has no points, no winning, no failure messages. Actually, almost no messages at all. Except for a little icon of headphones next to a thumbs up, Ephemerid doesn’t directly communicate with the player. Instead, the player is gently encouraged to tap and swipe different parts of the papercut art to explore the world and see what the interactions do.
Each scene asks the player to interact with something different, usually in a new way, but always inspired by the music. The music adds to each scene, or hints at what the player might want to try. Taken together, the scenes tell a story of an inquisitive mayfly’s life. Sometimes, you’ll take part in moments of joy and excitement, calling up ancient Chinese dragons or bouncing through the starry sky. Some scenes are puzzles, which can be solved with a little experimentation and exploration. Ephemerid is playful without being childish or cutesy.
There’s no way to screw up in Ephemerid. Not everything you see will help you progress through the world, but there’s no “wrong” thing to tap or touch. This creates an environment for relaxed exploration, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the world, but it prevents players from deviating from the mayfly’s intended path. You might slow down to enjoy the flowers, clouds, leaves, stars, or boombox-bearing dancing spider, but no matter what, your life as a mayfly involves finding a mate, procreating, and then dying.
When you complete the life cycle of a mayfly (that came out sounding very 4th grade science fair), you’ll be back at the beginning on the Ephemerid record, ready to begin again as a new mayfly. Symbolically, as the vinyl circle of life, it works very well, although I don’t know if there’s much replay value in mayfly reincarnation. I only used the record-menu to return to sections in which I’d been too absorbed to take a good screenshot.
I first checked out a demo of Ephemerid at SXSW, and I loved the childlike exploration and simple elegance of the intro version. (Although I have to admit it was pretty odd playing such a gentle musical game amid the craziness of the SXSW gaming pavilion.)
It didn’t seem even a little odd to have a cardboard spider light up and dance for followers. Other folks at SXSW offered me breakfast tacos, t-shirts and cocktails for @ mentions, and at least a musical cardboard spider related to a musical paper mayfly, right? When I played the full version, though, I laughed to find my funny spider friend as the mayfly’s dangerous enemy.