Floor Kids and Density

Floor Kids is available on Steam, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.

Our priorities can shift a lot over time.

Back when I was in school, I’d play the same video game cover-to-cover a dozen times because that’s what was on-hand and appealing. It’s how I could draw you a full map of the entire first region of Jak & Daxter from memory, and why I have strong and detailed opinions about most individual species of Pokémon. In one year of college alone, I sunk 100 hours each into the open-world offerings of Saints Row and Mount & Blade (not all of them at the keyboard, to be fair). The more I could wring a single game purhase out for its content back then, from sidequests and collectibles to a whole campaign, the better.

Nowadays, the thought is exhausting.

When I heard that Fire Emblem: Three Houses would potentially clock in at eighty hours – for one campaign out of four – it nearly pushed me away from the game entirely. That translates to a whole month of playing little else to finish one relatively linear game, which is something that I’m rarely willing to commit unless I’m 100% sold based on previous experience with a series. To be frank, we’re living in a golden content bubble right now. There are so many diverse games are doing so many unique things with the medium that are coming out every week – the fear of missing out is a huge factor in 2019 for games alone, not to mention the other interests I want to keep up with. Even finishing off the titles physically sitting on my shelf at this moment feels like a challenge when the influx of new material just won’t quit and the complexity of AAA titles demands that they feature longer and longer campaigns to fully explore what they’re capable of.

Density has been a huge point of contention lately on that front, especially with open-world, systemic games. Red Dead Redemption 2 got dinged hard for turning the length, pace, and scope of its campaign into something almost as grueling to play as it reportedly was to produce. But The Breath of the Wild made a similarly broad, slow-moving, and empty world into a thematic selling point that players voluntarily engaged with dozens up to a hundred hours per person. Building bigger and bigger is a precarious business, and one that can backfire horribly.

So there’s something to be said about tight, well-curated games that can key in on their core competencies, let the player engage with nearly every angle of their concept inside the space of a few play sessions, and then close themselves out gracefully.

Games like Floor Kids.

fknoogie
Fly!

Floor Kids took around a cool three hours to finish, even with going back to collect higher rankings on a few tracks and recruit playable characters. Being entirely based around breaking (breakdancing), the gameplay is appropriately free-flowing, with timed button presses factoring in for around thirty seconds of each two-and-a-half-minute track. The rest of play is based around learning your characters’ moves, experimenting with rapid combinations to maximize your score, and adapting to the audience on the fly. The whole setup is so wildly unlike the “note chart” approach seen in the supermajority of the rhythm-game genre that it stands out like a sore thumb, in all the best ways.

It’s also not something that evolves in a surprising way once you’ve got it down, though.

Some genres are naturally better-suited to being condensed than others. Strategy and role-playing games demand time for situations and characters to grow and react to players’ decisions over time – even the admittedly path-driven JRPG subgenre rarely sees entries under twenty hours. But the longevity of rhythm games is primarily driven by their content, not their mechanics. Even if some songs down the line will be harder to play or you still have some favorite tunes to get to, you’ve basically seen what Project Diva can do in the first hour of play on Hard mode.

So, with a tight soundtrack by a singular artist and a fairly unchanging set of mechanics, Floor Kids chooses not to over-extend itself and limits its gameplay to a single 24-track album. And as it turns out, that’s the perfect length for what it’s doing. It’s enough space you you to try the characters out and pick a favorite, get into an loose routine with the moves they have on offer, and start really nailing all the extra little mechanics like reversals, combos, and crowd requests before you hit the final level and you’re left to keep playing as much or as little as you like. Plus, you see all the game’s little flourishes, from the bits of characterization on the dancers’ move descriptions and how their hand-drawn animations merge together to the post-performance track that adapts its rhythm and sound samples based on your score, and wrap up before any of them start to feel stale.

In fact, a lot of the Floor Kids’ lasting appeal was outside of what just the game itself  could offer. Its distinct sense of audio-visual style and vibrant soundtrack pushed me to go read into the culture and music behind breaking – I’m pretty sure that hip-hop music dominated my listening rotation for a good two weeks afterward. By leaning on an existing idea and offering me a window into it, Floor Kids was taking on less of a burden on itself – a smart choice for an independently-made game – and giving me a clean exit ramp out of a fairly brief but potent experience – great for me as a player.

All that is to say, I really appreciate a dense, well-curated game these days. I’ve tried and failed to latch onto a dozen MMORPGs over the years, each one for at least five-to-ten hours to clear the early-game zones, but I couldn’t tell you as much about any one of them as I could about Floor Kids, having played it perhaps a third of the time.

And all that isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate longer games with the space to breathe. The Bravely series’ expanding and interlocking job system has plenty to keep me on-board for a whole forty hours of experimentation, and I’ll still spend a whole afternoon in Monster Hunter learning my way around a new beast in detail until I’ve turned it into a scaly hat.

But the experience has to stay rich and engaging throughout the entire runtime, and that seems to be much more common when a game keeps things close-knit and to the point.

fkkids
Dance On You Floor Kids

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