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Indie Nation #41: Garden Gnome Carnage

7:27 PM on 11.21.2008 // Anthony Burch

As Thanksgiving is only a few days away and my creativity is as limited as my enthusiasm, it's time for a Christmas-themed Indie Nation! Yay!

Thankfully, however, this week's game isn't anywhere near as annoying as hearing "Jingle Bell Rock" on every single radio station for the next month. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Garden Gnome Carnage is pretty damned fun regardless of its barely Christmas-y theme.

Garden Gnome Carnage is sort of a tower defense/physics game hybrid that, quite frankly, is way more addictive and fun than it has any real right to be. You play an unnamed garden gnome, tasked with defending his apartment building (or something) from an invading force of Santa's elves. What should have by all accounts been a forgettable, stupid game with a funny name and weird theme actually ended up keeping me playing for far, far longer than any game of its type should. 

Get it and play it, or hit the jump to hear more of my feelings on this quirky little holiday title.

With every game I highlight on Indie Nation, I always try to replay the game right before I start writing in order to remind myself how it feels, and what stands out to me when I play it. Usually, this only takes a few minutes: I play for a second, I remember those feelings, then I close the game and start writing.

This ritual became something of a problem with Garden Gnome Carnage, because I simply couldn't stop playing even after I'd remembered how the game felt. I finally sat down to write this article about fifteen minutes after I first loaded it up, I'm ashamed to say. Fifteen minutes may not sound like a very long time, but it's definitely much longer than I expected to spend with a game revolving around a garden gnome attached to a bungee cord. Which is attached to a building. Which is made of explosive red bricks which, when grabbed by the gnome, can be thrown like little concrete grenades.

I think Garden Gnome Carnage derives much of its replayability from the simple, intuitive gameplay (swing your gnome around and smack him into elves before they get to the top of your building and cut your rope), and the surprising amount of care and detail put into it. Though the creators could have simply kept the elf-thwacking mechanic and measured your progress with a high score, they also endeavored to add a combo system, unlockable tips, airstrikes (yes, airstrkes), cat juggling (yes, cat juggling) and cute little context-sensitive messages that occasionally pop up. If you whack an elf who's only a few inches away from untying your rope, for instance, the game will visually exclaim, "CRIKEY!" If you get a huge combo multiplier, a programmer's face -- a la Mortal Kombat -- will appear from offscreen and note their surprise and admiration. Despite being an incredibly simple game, there's a lot of neat little things like that sprinkled all throughout the design.

There's also some sort of "Cone Race" thing you can unlock if you get your combo meter all the way up but, since I suck complete ass, I never got to see what it was. 

In fact, that may be my only complaint about Garden Gnome Carnage: given how much it has to show you, it's pretty damn hard. You need to get to 80,000 points just to get an extra life, but I've never managed to break past 60k despite playing for the last half hour. But, then again, maybe that's just another wise design choice: since I kept getting my ass handed to me in a way that didn't feel unfair or arbitrary (I just suck at using the bungee), I wanted to keep trying, just to see more of the little hidden tricks and treats the developers had placed for me.

And by the by, I have no idea why the game is about a garden gnome killing Santa's elves. None whatsoever. And I'm perfectly happy that way. As the title screen warns the player: "Don't ask 'why;' ask, 'why not?'" Why do I control a garden gnome attached to a bungee cord? Why does a magical cat refill my brick ammo if he reaches the chimney? Why do I periodically revisit this game despite its simplistic mechanics and my own ineptitude at it? Don't worry about any of that: just play it, and enjoy it.

And if you unlock the "Cone Race," tell me what the hell it is.

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