When I first heard about Small Worlds, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Its core concept of zooming out to show more and more of the map was something I had previously wanted to do, but gameplay-wise just couldn’t quite figure out.
Here are some of the bits that make Small Worlds work:
- The rule of thumb for when the world zooms out is quite simple: whenever the player reaches the edge of the screen and can keep going, i.e., he doesn’t hit a collidable wall, the world starts zooming out (this is usually when similar games starts to scroll the map). When the player is no longer pushing at the boundaries of the screen, the zooming stops.
- The main character is just a few pixels tall and 1 pixel wide, with a red body and a pink head. Nothing else really uses these colours, which makes it easy to spot him even when the levels are zoomed out all the way.
- The player’s avatar automatically scales small obstacles, which really helps to prevent the controls from getting frustrating in the zoomed out portions of the game.
- There’s a clear separation of backgrounds and foregrounds via colour schemes. The backgrounds are darker and more faded out, while the foregrounds are more vibrant and clearly visible. This contrast helps to discern where the player can and cannot go.
- There are no enemies or hazardous obstacles to create a sense of danger — the goal is simply to find the exit. This goes hand in hand with the two interlocking mechanics: the zooming out and the fog of war.All the levels are covered by a fog of war that obscures the map. The fog of war is only dispelled when the player physically approached it with his avatar. Conversely, the levels zoom out whenever the player approaches the edge of the screen. This means that as the player uncovers more of the fog of war, he periodically zooms out the map, revealing even more portions of the level that are obscured by said fog of war. This gives the game a constant sense of progression and clearly indicates the next possible routes for exploration.
Additionally, the levels themselves represent aesthetically pleasing vistas that are a reward in themselves. This encourages the player to explore every nook and cranny not only to zoom out the map (which takes him ever closer to the exit point), but also to see more of the big-picture itself.
Although I wish the game had more interactive components and more varied level structure, it’s still quite a neat title that you’re free to try out for yourself.