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Invented Narrative as a Hook in TOMENA SANNER

28th August 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Life is very much a process of adaptability, so we are always learning from and being shaped by experiences presented to us. Maturing by means of this exposure, our senses gradually become less and less enamoured by reusable tactics of jocularity. That's what we like to think, anyway.
For some, no matter how many times they've seen it happen, it's amusing to watch a virtual character proudly put itself face-to-face with an entity only to then be chased by it. It could be because we see little reason to fear for personal safety that we react the way we do. Our not being physically present in a space brings with it an emotional disparity; though, as evidenced by a responsive smirk or chuckle, this doesn't distance us entirely from surface feelings stemming from such actions and movements. Really, then, the key lies in delivery.

Comical tactics -- in whatever form they surface -- can still project surprise and engagement by means of an attached spin, even as samey treatments produce little-to-no observable reactions (besides eye rolling, that is). Going back to that earlier scenario, what if that chase sequence were set in motion, not by an irate senior, but a large and fearsome dinosaur. Of course, context is everything in this initiation. You could have a frighteningly realistic creature where the mere sight of blood augments a fear you originally separated from your personal circumstances. But what if that threat takes a cartoony form and is seen working in harmony with a character to tell a narrative focused on...companionship, of all things? "Hey, Mr. Dinosaur! You won't mind if I just nonchalantly use your tail as a ski slope, right? By the way, we should make lunch plans sometime." Unheard of! But the telling of these unrealistic stories is precisely what game designers have harnessed to ground players in experiences heavy on disbelief or to make real-life connections to established terms and settings. And bringing that in further, this is what's explored in TOMENA SANNER (pronounced taw-min-na-sawn-na, said quickly).

Using humor as a component for storytelling, it can be difficult to look at how this strategy should be weighted -- as either an element or a full-on, force-fed concept -- when it's used so strongly to support or outright carry gameplay. Separate entities, or a single, supportive relationship? Adding to the conundrum, at what point does this become a secure hold versus a contrivance that hides the lack of a deeper push? These are all questions well worth asking in relation to how TOMENA SANNER uses narrative as a design invention.

The game is anything if not spunky for its hop, skip, and dance as a dedicated drive. Where else -- WarioWare excluding -- will you find yourself playing baseball with reptilians, doing the wave with a line of robots, overturning cars with your bare hands, bowling down a group of zombies, and doing the moonwalk with astronauts (clarification: in one game), all as a not-so-stereotypical businessman? Making these events stick that much more is the presence of somewhat random messages (e.g., "What's wrong with today's youth?" and "Respect your elders!") suggestively mocking (and sometimes applauding) players as they fumble across the one-track, side-scrolling fields. Exuding innocence in its nonsensical extensions, there's an actual story being told, albeit one that's more a hotshot display than a heartwarming tale. It's an attractive decision inasmuch as it relates to adding a value equation to otherwise mundane aspects.

From a gameplay perspective, TOMENA SANNER is a one-button affair, so you immediately know there's not going to be much depth to be had in terms of the overall design. I never considered TOMENA SANNER to be a fine-tuned game, which is probably the reason why I originally regarded the consistency as being so one-dimensional. And
in the scheme of things, it's all a very loose construction. Because of that looseness, there's a disconnect unintentionally achieved in its not capably meeting both simplicity and overall wackiness with solid principles. Consequently, the desire to immerse yourself in the game isn't met with great authenticity. But to close your mind based on this point alone would be to overlook an underlying achievement.

Invariably shrugging its shoulders in the different courses it presents, it can be said that gameplay, in its simplicity, essentially hitches a ride on the back of the humor-filled approach. Where this becomes an obstacle is in the fact that the timing windows attached to each individual element aren't immediately discernible, nor is the pace consistently welcoming as your good efforts end up pushing you closer and closer to the edge of the screen. Where this becomes a redeeming feature, however, is in the arrangement of secrets and game-pausing events to direct the game off-course from complete predictability.
From the standpoint of having to maintain a set groove through figurative handstands, backflips, and (less figurative) hoop-jumping, it's a bit extraneous. But through an experimental approach towards a worry-free experience, it's times when you stop to share a laugh with a punk on the street or dance with a group of private school attendees that its commitment to humor doesn't seem as half-baked; rather, a legitimate, if not slightly incoherent use of narrative towards ensuring no two sessions are identical.

The partial fusing together of humor with the casual algorithms should provide enough of an indication as to whether or not TOMENA SANNER is particularly successful as a game. Still, even with the absence of strong ties to a deeper experience, it's this moving away from a templated methodology and towards a unique engagement that is especially noteworthy. Glances in this direction might suggest the game is devoid of any sort of maturity, but the unique playfulness to its narrative demonstrates otherwise. And from the perspective of how narratives can live off complexity just as much as they can operate from a place of flexibility, there are evidently cases where what appears to be an incorrect motivation is, in actuality, just enough of a hook in the face of simple gameplay delivery.

Feature by KnucklesSonic8