Recommendations, 6/6

This week: iPhone puzzlers, movies with Scarlett Johansson, infuriatingly difficult RPGs, and petting Icelandic lambs.



If you liked Threes, your next iPhone game obsession should be Folt. (Specifically, you should download it for free, then immediately unlock endless mode for $1 because the main game has some in-app-purchace nonsense you’re better off avoiding.) In screenshots, Folt looks like your standard match-three puzzler, but it sets itself apart with its novel method for placing tiles. Essentially, you “walk” your tiles in cardinal directions around the grid, one space at a time, stamping a new color with each step. When three match, they disappear and you get points. The action is easy to control and understand, but by restricting where tiles can be placed, the game demands far more long-term planning than your typical Bejeweled-clone. At first, it’s all too easy to trap yourself in a dead end, but as you play more, you can string together thrillingly long runs by developing more effective strategies and making each move carefully. Basically, Folt meets all my criteria for perfect iPhone puzzle games: You can control it with one hand in portrait mode, its sessions are just the right length, and it’s deep enough that you have to pay attention but simple enough that you can zone out a bit as you play. Those may not sound like tough standards, but after six years of playing App Store games, I’ve probably found fewer than ten that make the cut. And Folt passes with ease.


There is a line of thinking in education these days that college courses should be more like videogames. Videogames teach you the skills you need as you need them. You start a videogame at level one where you learn the basic mechanics and then the game gradually adds complexity and challenge. The player (or student) goes to the next level only when she has mastered the first.


Well, if this analogy is true then playing the fantasy RPG Dark Souls II is like enrolling in a course run by the cruelest, most jaded (probably tenured) professor on campus. You know, the kind who doesn’t provide you with even the most rudimentary context or background information to help you successfully complete the course. The only way to figure out what is going on in Dark Souls II is to look at what other students of Dark Souls II have written on the web. Even then, good luck getting very far without substantial help and luck. Or knowing how any item will work. Or what happens when you level up an attribute (or even how or where to level up). And yet, I keep playing Dark Souls II though I can’t seem to get past a fairly early boss level (three sentinels who, like a parsimonious prof, are completely unforgiving of even the tiniest mistake). Perhaps I just like looking at the bright red message “YOU DIED” over and over again? Or perhaps, having sunk my tuition money into the course, I am determined to sit through the whole damn thing even if I don’t quite get it.



I spent last week traveling around the Icelandic countryside (see above): hiking to glaciers, swimming in hot springs, eating more hot dogs than in the previous ten years combined, searching for elves, cuddling lambs (see below), wearing my teeth down with salty black licorice, and slowly going insane from the midnight sun. You all should try it.



Under the Skin was everything I have ever wanted from a movie. There is no exposition, and the few bits of dialogue are there for tone rather than explanation. Instead, its storytelling is completely visual and aural—dark and weird and moving. As I watched, I couldn’t helping wondering, Why aren’t all films like this?

I almost don’t even what the movie is about because it’s better to go in blind. (Here’s the trailer. No wait, don’t watch it!) Under the Skin demands a lot from its audience: patience, concentration, a suspension of narrative expectations. Its rewards are surprising and immensely satisfying.

I haven’t read the Michael Faber novel it was based on, but I’m having a hard time even imagining how it would look in prose. With most adaptations, you can see the seams of the novel. Under the Skin was completely immersive. I’m not even sure I have the vocabulary to express what the movie does. But it’s doing something, and perhaps it’s everything that we don’t know that makes the film so incredible.