DUET title screen

I’ve never carried out a game review before, but this is the first of two game reviews I couldn’t help but write about. The first game I have to write about about is called Duet and the second, well, that’s a surprise for the next blog. Both games are so unique, interesting, addictive (in a good way) and beautifully designed. Reviewing games is not something I think I’m going to do regularly, it just so happens that these two fantastic games have caught my eye about the same time.

The Duet game isn’t what you think it is, for instance, a singing game that encourages you to start wailing along to music with someone else. No, Duet is a unique game and totally, utterly addictive where no singing by anyone is required. The game has almost ruined a business trip because all I wanted to do was play this game, and I actually haven’t felt that way towards a game in ages. I become interested in games when I look at them from an academic perspective, for example, when I want to reference a game in my upcoming book. But to play a game I genuinely enjoy these days has been rare.

I first noticed the DUET game on the App Store on Sunday 23rd March and have played it every single day, even if I can only squeeze in a minute or two. I downloaded the game from the App store on my phone at about 11:30pm that evening; playing the game in bed in my hotel room in Bucharest, and didn’t stop playing until about 2am and I swear I could have gone on for much, much longer had it not been for the adult inside my head reminding me I have to wake up at 7am. Considering how tired I was that day after traveling from London to Bucharest, this game woke me up when I started playing and I really, really had to force myself to stop playing it in light that I had to wake up again in just a handful of hours.

DUET game levels
DUET game levels pic2

Beginning my journey back to London from Bucharest, I started playing again and for even longer. Just to reiterate how enjoyable this game is, it’s worth noting that I really had NO time to play this game; with a book to edit and a PhD just started as well as a wedding to organise. I figured though, that I had 2ish hours in OTP airport with another 3 hours on the plane, so surely squeezing in an hour of game-play was ok? So, with feelings of guilt, I pulled my phone out and started playing. 2.5 hours later, then with a break to get on the plane, and then another 3 hours on the plane, then a break getting off the plane, and another hour on the train to my home, I played Duet until my eyes went funny. (I had laser eye surgery before xmas, and despite being worried I was going to ruin all my surgeons hard-work I still couldn’t put the game down. The reason I even stumbled upon Duet in the App store is because I was consciously looking for examples of games that were minimalistic in style and preferably with little or no colours being used, as I’m using these kinds of games as references in my book for further evidence that games are not about bright colours. And Duet was the best example I could use; fantastic game play with colour playing no part whatsoever.

Duet is a simple but crazily addictive game as you can probably tell from what I’ve already said about it. In Duet, you have to navigate a wheel through increasingly complex mazes of falling blocks. The wheel you are navigating has a blue and red ball of paint on either side, and if either paint balls hit into a falling block (which happens often), your session of play is rewinded instantly back to the beginning of the level (the rewind is complimented by the satisfying if not annoying sound of an old VHS rewind sound). But don’t think this game is anything like a Tetris in the way I’ve described ‘falling blocks’; far from it. I’ve actually never played a game like this before. Duet is also really quirky with all the levels broken down into the stages of grief (anger, acceptance, depression etc) and every time you’re about to complete a new level, profound quotations float on the screen like “was all the pain and misery worth it?”, “what are you trying to prove, exactly?” and “you will not win” (although I get the feeling this one is making a comment about winning in the game of life rather than the game itself).

Part of the reason this game is irrationally addictive is because when you make a mistake, you immediately go back to the start of the level and without hesitation, the level begins again, giving you a second of breathing space to chastise yourself for being an idiot and making the mistake that lead you to be rewinded. And even once a level is (so satisfyingly) completed, your navigation wheel just continues on to the next level without you even having a moment to think about what the heck is going on around you in the real world (as you’ve probably been head-down playing Duet for 2 hours like me).

The game allows you to invert the controls (so your left and right thumb turn the wheel with your left thumb directing the wheel towards the right and vice-versa) as well as being able to invert the colours with black blocks on white background and vice-versa.

While this game has no big glory moments with achievement sounds or banners saying ‘congratulations!’ etc. you really don’t miss anything like that at all. In Duet, you just don’t need it. In fact, the lack of fanfare is better as you have this quiet but resounding ‘hell-yeah’ feeling of pride inside you as the game swiftly moves into the next level. The satisfaction you feel inside is enough of a song and dance. It was hard not to do a ‘success-kid’ on the tube after FINALLY getting through that level. Instead I had to sit there and act casual.

Another great thing (and unique thing) about DUET is that the game doesn’t tell you how many times you’ve tried and retried (and retried) each level. The only way you can look at what you’ve been doing is by all the marks of your mistakes with blue and red paint splattered on the falling blocks (although you do have the option to switch off the paint stains on the blocks). I am certain that if I was being watched playing Duet (especially while playing on one of the more tricky levels), they would have seen that I retried the same level over 100 times without a break. Seriously. I’m just glad my iPhone battery hung on tight.DUET gameplay

Duet is such a brilliant and clever game, so much so that I think I may actually have to delete it from my phone because it is unbearably, wonderfully, addictive. Good on the Kumobious developers and Tim Shiel for the funky music.

Duet teaches us that great game-play doesn’t need noise and fanfare. It shows us that fantastic game-design can be beautiful, simplistic in aesthetics and even challenge some of our expectations of games. But most of all Duet shows us that good game-app ideas haven’t run out just yet!