002602_largerNeven Mrgan and James Moore call their latest iOS game – Blackbar [$2.99] - “serious, artsy, and texty.” For the most part, the game is exactly those things. Serious in tone, artsy in approach, and texty cause… well, the game’s just text.

Blackbar is a game which you fill in the blanks of censorship to piece together a narrative. A word game; like Mad Libs for adults. Neven Mrgan writes a great story about censorship and love and manages to keep me completely engaged as it unfolded. I slowly became its protagonist, madly deciphering pages in hopes of understanding what, why, and when. To save from spoiling anything: I’ll be leaving it at simply that.

Filling in the black bars is fun, and quite challenging. Using context-clues I easily began guessing the correct words for each black space. The writing feels human, and the words come naturally, early on. The game takes off quickly too, but eases itself to a challenging crawl that helps realize the experience of playing Blackbar.

blackbarText games, like this, are perfect for the platform. Its gameplay easily slides between text-messages from your mom, or emails on the iPad. No soundtrack, voice-overs, menus, or credits; simply white pages and black text. Its narrative slowly seeped into my daily life, making uncensoring each bar a joy that made time disappear. By its last page Blackbar had proven it knew how to use the iOS platform to its advantage, making the experience that much more special. I was so surprised at how involved I was while playing too, I mean… I was only playing with words.

Turns out I forgot how powerful words can be.

Ultimately, it comes down to if you desire to engage with an interactive short-story or not. If you do, this is definitely one to have. Its allegories are smart, and its approach to story-telling on touch-devices is just as well.

As far as Blackbar’s attempt to be what it is: It’s flawless, sans nit-picking a few of its narrative choices during late-game challenges - that stumped me to an annoying halt. I guess there’s also an argument for Blackbar not being a game, in which I say, who gives a crap!? Even if not a game: it entertained me for a good chunk of a week. I could point out 100 “games” on the app store that struggle to keep my attention for more than 4 minutes, if that’s saying anything.

I love what Blackbar attempts as a text-game, and how it challenged my ability to think and write naturally. I stand by what it says narratively about censorship. It’s nice to take a break from all the bloody polygons, once and a while, and absorb a story differently. How it made me feel more like the protagonist than most other games, simply by having me fill in the words the Department decided should not be spoken...

Bravo, Neven Mrgan. Bravo!

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • daftman

    I put this game in my watch list just based on the icon and short app description glad to see it makes good on its potential. I'll definitely pick this up sometime.

  • toxiccheese

    This game is so unique and different. It kept my attention all the way to the end. It can be frustrating in spots, but the story really makes it shine. 5 stars!

  • Kaje85

    Unfortunately, whilst it's different and has good writing - it's abysmally short. Without a guide, it took me around 20-30 minutes from start to finish. For £1.99 I expect FAR more than that.

    • http://waxy.org/ Andy Baio

      Um, that's less than a cup of coffee. The expectations people have for prices on the App Store is just insane.

      • mutts

        I don't think they are. There are apps out there for less that give ( have not tried this game ) or might give a better experience.
        And last longer, were it €0.89 it would be an instant buy. Now i will wait for a price drop.

      • http://waxy.org/ Andy Baio

        Well, I hope Neven and James never, ever drop the price. This spendthrift mentality is unsustainable, and leads to less independently-produced games and more safe, mainstream dreck.

        Smaller, interesting niche games made by one or two people have smaller demand and smaller audiences than "Angry Birds 3: Harry Potter Edition" or whatever nonsense is topping the App Store this week, and they rarely resort to exploitative IAP tricks.

        As a result, they usually cost a little more. This is a Good Thing. If you don't want the App Store to turn into Hollywood, and want to encourage indies to make more interesting games, you should be prepared to cough up a dollar now and then.

    • countermind

      Must be a linguist. I'm still working on it.

  • chriscambell

    It's, "once in a while." Not, "once and a while."

  • James Cameron

    Good review. The only thing I don't agree with is about the game being 'serious in tone'. I'd say 'darkly humorous' is closer the mark. I don't mind paying what I did for it. This thing has clearly not just been knocked together over an evening. A lot of care and love has gone into writing and moulding the story and creating the puzzles

Blackbar Reviewed by Jeffrey deMelo on . Rating: 4.5