City Tuesday (Indie Games Uprising III)

Out of the entire Indie Games Uprising III, City Tuesday was the game I was looking forward to most. It seemed poised to do everything that the finest indie games on any platform often do – challenge assumptions about what can be done with games as a medium, express something philosophical or emotional, evoke a mood and intrigue the brain.

I tried to not to hope for all this when I sat down to play. I studiously avoid hype for anything that interests me so that I won’t be greeted with crushing disappointment when I experience the reality. That’s why I haven’t played Skyrim. It couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.

In the case of City Tuesday, it helped that the promotional material didn’t make it clear how the game would work. It could have been a platformer, a puzzler, a point and click adventure – there was no telling. As it turns out, City Tuesday is a game of two parts.

One part is a terrorist attack on the anonymous city, and this part reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on the N64. Not aesthetically or in gameplay style, but in its approach to preventing the bombings. Streets, parks and buildings teem with people, all going about their everyday business. They walk the dog, go to work, eat, drive around and chat to each other. At the same time, terrorists move among them, planting bombs that all detonate at the exact same moment, wiping everyone out. The bombers are no fools; they hide their explosives in places that are hard to access: behind locked doors, buried under concrete, or stashed in someone’s car. If you don’t disarm these bombs by the end of the day, it all ends and…you start over. That is your power, and the reason that only you can save the innocent people of the city. You are unbound by time.

Including renting it from Blockbuster

On subsequent attempts, the day plays out the same as the first time. If you’ve ever played Majora’s Mask or seen Groundhog Day (or the earlier but more obscure 12:01 for hipster points) then it will make sense to you. You relive the same day, with the same people doing the same things, and through observation of their routines you can begin to work out how to tweak the pattern – and finally neutralise the bombs.

I love this part of the game. It’s a brave attempt to do something that isn’t often seen in games, and for the most part it does it well. I floundered around for a few minutes because the game explains very little about itself, but once I got a handle on how things work I began to really enjoy it. I can think of one or two changes that might be beneficial – in particular, forcing the player to disarm all the bombs in one go, Majora’s Mask style. Some events that occur during the day will make certain bomb locations inaccessible, but, once a bomb has been defused it remains defused even when the day starts over from the beginning. Personally I feel it would have been both more challenging and more interesting to reactivate every bomb upon restarting the day, so that the player has to not only work out how to resolve each individual threat but also slot them all together into an overall sequence so that all are disarmed in one flawless, heroic run.

But watch out for naked men on trains

I said the game is in two parts. The other part is the black sheep of the City Tuesday family. It’s not bad, not by any means, but it’s also nothing special. The whole of City Tuesday is divided into three stages. Stage 1 is a tutorial. It’s a short series of simple single-room puzzles; not particularly interesting or challenging, but that’s to be expected from a tutorial. Awkwardly, it actually doesn’t teach you very much, and at least one part is too cryptic to be helpful (a remark about security being unable to stop you that only makes sense once you already know what it means). We can disregard this tutorial as not part of the main game, leaving us with Stages 2 and 3 as the main body of City Tueday.

Stage 3 is the larger scale rewinding bomb hunt I discussed above. Stage 2, sadly, is basically a longer version of the tutorial. It is again a series of single-screen puzzles, most of which are very simple. There is one that made me think and actually forced me to go away and come back later, once I understood more about how the game’s concept works. The interesting ideas introduced in this puzzle, however, are never repeated. Standing alone it is enjoyable but too short and sorely under-used. The other screens in Stage 2 are pretty straightforward. Identify how to reach the bomb, then go and get it.

Museum terrorists are more sporting

This is City Tuesday’s big weakness. Two of the three stages are effectively little more than tutorial, then when the game hits its stride and begins to unfurl into something more majestic in Stage 3, suddenly it’s over. It feels like ­City Tuesday is a quarter of a great game. If there had been another two or three stages after Stage 3 that played in a similar way, and revisited or built upon some of the ideas introduced earlier on, this could have been one of the best games on the Xbox indie channel. As it stands, I really enjoyed City Tuesday once it got going, but was left hollow and disappointed by the whole thing suddenly jumping ship and calling a halt after what is, to all intents and purposes, level 1.

I still recommend City Tuesday. When it actually gets on with doing what it’s meant to do, it is a very good game that would stray into brilliance with a couple of tweaks. Even in its truncated form it’s easily worth 80 Microsoft points to get a glimpse of what’s possible in indie games. It’s just a crying shame that City Tuesday is content to remain only a glimpse – an introductory trailer for a grander project that doesn’t exist.

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18 comments on “City Tuesday (Indie Games Uprising III)

  1. Edgar Alan says:

    Interesting. I had assumed that you would need to disarm all the bombs in one run. Then again, maybe that would have proven to be somewhat repetitive. Still, it sounds like an intriguing game, so I’ll definitely be picking it up.

    • I think that would have been better, but perhaps it wouldn’t have suited everyone. I did enjoy the game and it’s something quite different, it’s just a shame it had to stop just as it hit its stride.

      • I considered that approach and actually tested it.

        The fun in my game comes from figuring out something that at first was difficult to understand but then learning how it functions and acting on it. The fun is not in like it is in a shooter where you finally accomplished something that required dexterity over the controls. In a shooter it is fun to play the same thing over and over again. I have replayed halo 1 countless times on every difficulty.

        But, if you have ever played an RPG and experienced the frustration of having your save file deleted you will know that replaying something you have already done is not fun.

        Maybe I will make an update with a hardcore mode where people have to get every bomb in the city before time runs out.

        • Edgar Alan says:

          A game that leaves you wanting more at the end of it is a sign of a good game in my opinion.
          Maybe the “disarm all the bombs in one go” idea could have worked in a smaller level with say around 3 or 4 bombs to do at once. That way it would provide a good challenge, without being overly repetitive.

  2. Gaume says:

    Thanks for the nice review.
    I have looked for informations about this game for months.
    I expected City Tuesday to be a great indie and bought it as soon as it appeared on the store.
    But I was in difficulty understanding the gameplay. Thanks to your article, I’m more confident about the quality of back to aventure mountain game’s.

    Back to black and white city right now.

    Gaume from France

  3. Anonymous says:

    Just finished the game after having met “time over death” lots of time.
    I found the game really nice to play, the end is surprising.
    Like you Alan, I’d rather play longer City Tuesday with more levels but over as for the best XBLIG it’s always too short when it’s good.

    Now, I’ve got a mail to send 😉

  4. Gaume says:

    I’ve just finished the game… in fact it seems to be this because the frozen “City Tuesday” screen is sonorized with fireworks.
    Like you Alan, I FInd the game too short but it may hide some secrets.
    I had pleasure to play. Puzzle games are not my cup of tea but here, I wanted to find solutions by myself. I did. It may be the sign that the level is easy.
    That’s a fine game even if not the shining star I was waiting for.

    Now I wanna send a mail 😉

  5. noggleboggleman says:

    I played the trial and bought it. It’s pretty good. Great concept that could have been developed much further.

    It’s a very short game – took me about 30 minutes to complete. I didn’t mind that though as it’s quite a good feeling to complete a game in one sitting.

    Probably worth the asking price, but I can’t help feeling that more could have been done with it. It doesn’t quite feel like a complete game and the ending is out of place.

    Great art style and gameplay let down by a shoddy ending. The developer just seemed to run out of ideas.

    • Hi guys I am Chris Zukowski. You guys made some great points.

      About running out of ideas. I actually kind of ran out of time. I had been working on this game for close to 2 years and I felt like I had made a game that provided $1 worth of content (keep in mind that a bag of saturated-fat filled doritos at work cost 1.50).

      My thought process was I could either spend another year perfecting more puzzles on this game, or I could start on a new game.

      I released City Tuesday in this state because I thought it was like a student short film. Because it had a few good ideas and didn’t over-stay its welcome.

      • Edgar Alan says:

        I think describing it as being like a student short film is spot on. It was sufficiently different from anything else out there, had a unique look and feel to it, and was fun to play. I certainly feel like I got my 80MSPs worth out of it despite the short length. I loved all the different people wandering around the city and the incidental details of their routines (the appearance of a certain french actor had me laughing out loud).
        The XBLIG channel is, in a sense, the ideal place for this kind of interesting project.

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