Combo Pool and the Pico-8 Game Jam

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For the last month, I’ve been knee deep in Pico-8 both playing games and trying to make some. It’s been awesome, even if I haven’t produced anything of note. And even if my own games falter, the Pico-8 is ripe with an ever-growing list of original games, demakes and more.

Recently the creator of Pico-8 announced a game jam where anyone could participate in making a game within a fixed amount of time with everyone using the same theme. It would be my first game jam and the result would also be my first Pico-8 game that has a beginning and an end.

My own game, Mass360

Pico-8 Mass360

My own game, Mass360, a crazy shooter

My entry into the jam is a game called Mass360, a 360-degree shooter along the lines of Gyruss and Tempest. It’s okay. It lacks a lot of polish but the concept is solid and the game can be quite a challenge. It also turned out to be a rather personal project as I turned them game into a story about my father’s fight with cancer and how I tried to deal with it. Okay, so the game really isn’t that deep but it’s something. Regardless, the game jam deadline motivated me to actually finish rather than just go halfway and give up like I normally do.

You can play Mass360 in your browser right now or look for it in Splore on your Pico-8 console.

And while my game entry didn’t win the game jam (nor did I expect it to), the whole thing highlighted exactly why I’ve fallen in love with the Pico-8 console. It’s just a great platform for people to make simple, fun games. It’s a real return to the NES-era games I love so much. It’s nice to play games that are like so many of my retro favorites without just being clones.

One of those games was the game jam winner, Combo Pool.

Combo Pool

Combo Pool is a puzzle game where you have to¬†combine like-color marbles while avoiding having too many “low level” marbles in play. You can kind of compare Combo Pool to the iOS game Threes but it’s so much more entertaining if for no other reason than you have to shoot your marbles into play.

Pico-8 Combo Pool

Combo Pool, winner of the 2nd Pico-8 Game Jam

You have to play the angles with your marbles in hopes of combining marbles. And as you might imagine for a low-fi type of game, the physics don’t always feel perfect but they don’t fail you so much that you just toss your hands up in frustration.

Combo Pool offers a couple difficulty modes and let me tell you that it’s not super easy on Hard mode. You won’t spend hours trying to win, but you’re not supposed to. Like any good arcade game, Combo Pool is intended to be picked up, played and put down. You might play for 5-minutes or you could get sucked in a drop 30-minutes like I did. So many of the Pico-8 games succeed at the “replay hook” when you’re done.

This Pico-8 game jam produced a handful of future-classics, even if my own game didn’t make the list. You can check out the entire list of games¬†over at the Pico-8 Forum, as well as play them all – remember, Pico-8 games can be played in your browser! You should certainly play Combo Pool but while you’re at it, check out Spacetank 9000 and Pico Pang.

It’s been a month since I discovered and started playing with Pico-8 and I’m still actively doing so…that’s telling, at least in my world. All too often I dive head first into something only for it to be shelved within a month or two. Pico-8 is still holding my attention, both as a way to try and make some fun games and as a great source for playing great games.

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Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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