Ubiquitous developer jmtb02 (John Cooney, now a developer for Armor Games) has added another prize race horse to his growing stable of ultra-fast-paced minigame collections. While his Four Second series (so far including Fury, Frenzy, and Firestorm) stuck pretty closely to the formula established by Nintendo's Wario Ware, this new game feels like its own entity, with a unified visual style and a strong sense of purpose. Grid16 is nothing less than an exploration of our primal gamer instincts, and although it isn't a complete triumph, it's a giant step in an intriguing direction.
Your goal in Grid16 is simply to stay alive as long as possible. You start out with 16 live mini-games, each recognizable as a video game archetype. Every few seconds, the current mini-game will pause, retreat into the background, and be replaced by another game at random. Your control method is always the arrow keys, but they act differently from game to game. Your objective changes constantly as well, but it almost always boils down to either touching something or avoiding something. The whole point here is simplicity.
To keep things interesting, a speed multiplier gradually counts up as you play, eventually doubling the pace of the game, tripling it, and more, with no limit in sight. When you fail at a game it disappears from the line-up, and when you've lost all 16, you're done. Have fun, and try not to have a heart attack.
Analysis: Grid16 isn't perfect. Not by a long shot. The balancing in the different mini-games is all over the place. Some kill you in seconds without giving you a fair chance to even guess at the right control scheme, while others make you actually go out of your way to fail, at least the first couple of times you see them.
Jmtb02 has removed a lot of the helpful audio/visual cues that accompanied Wario Ware and the Four Second games. The Grid16 mini-games just zap in and zap out without explanation or warning, and if your gamer grammar can't parse the basic shapes into characters, goals, and threats fast enough, you lose. If a mini-game pauses at a dangerous moment, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose the next time it pops up, simply because you won't have time to re-adjust. The instructions that ticker-tape along the top of the screen are more distraction than aid (definitely check them out for humorous easter eggs, though), and the way the entire screen goes black every time the speed multiplier increases just serves to break your concentration.
The worst issue is probably what happens at the end of the game, when you have a single mini-game remaining: it gets terribly boring. None of the games are strong enough to carry your attention on their own; they're only fun when you're flipping rapidly between them. So when you get down to the last one—which is probably the one you're best at anyway—you just watch it get faster and faster until you can't possibly keep up. Inexplicably, that last game will keep pausing and going through the whole switching routine, even though it no longer has anything to switch with. It probably would have worked better to simply end the whole thing when there's only one mini-game left.
But despite all these flaws, Grid16 is an absolute blast. I love the distilled purity of the aesthetic, the aggressive techno score, the battering challenge. The statistics page at the end of the game rates you separately on Prioritizing, Reflexes, and Timing, and that's what it feels like Grid16 is doing sometimes—measuring the potential of your very brain.
Of course, those scores would feel more accurate if the mini-games were less wildly unbalanced, but this is still a successful neurological experiment in a fun-tacular shape. If jmtb02 produces a sequel (and this is the developer behind five iterations of Ball Revamped, so it seems reasonable to expect Grid32 at some point) with tighter design, it will be one of the best of its breed.
You can also play this game at John's jmtb02 Studios site.