“There was once a world full of living robots. Everything was fine until a bad accident occurred in the main power generator…” – thus begins Little Wheel by oneclickdog, a beautiful (if brief) example of the strength of interactive storytelling. At five to ten minutes of total gameplay, Little Wheel is not going to win any awards for the most epic storyline in video game history – on a slow connection it might even take longer to download the game than to play it. But for the richness and depth of its world, very little else (for its relative size) comes close.
In Little Wheel, life is ‘turned off’ for 10 000 years – good night robots. Our small hero must travel through the sleeping metropolis, powering up trains and lowering drawbridges, reach the generator and turn it on. As a point and click game the puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, with the conventional inventory screen replaced by context sensitive buttons that allow your bumbling protagonist to edge toward resolution with little challenge. Beginners to the genre might find the lack of explanation confusing, but the environment is excellent at communicating the logic of the solution without exposition. (As an experiment I linked the game to my mother, a complete non-gamer, who finished it without assistance and “loved it”).
What the game lacks in length or difficulty it more than makes up for with character. The art direction is spot on – the sepia toned world of Little Wheel brims with detail but maintains clarity by restricting itself to illuminating in silhouette, thus making the visual style clear and distinctive. Your setting is a sleeping city, but details like swinging signs and spinning weathervanes make this world anything but lifeless. Your avatar, a robot that propels himself via one ‘little wheel’, hops and drops through his dilapidated city with an enthusiasm mirrored by the elevator jazz that makes up the soundtrack.
What all this amounts to is that certain something so rare in games, that alchemical combination of atmosphere and gameplay that evokes a story rather than tells it. The starkness of the setting is contrasted by the jollity of the tone and the largeness of the world is communicated without actually making the game feel long.
And that’s it. One small download and five to ten minutes later you’ve experienced Little Wheel – a fantastic example of storytelling through the interactive medium. It’s funny, unique and very sweet. The only challenge for oneclickdog now is to write the treatment and get Spielberg to produce it.