Glitch, for tree-huggers and chicken-squeezers

It's still a work in progress, but if you're looking for a laid-back, amusing, browser-based game, Glitch is a great way to waste some time.

If you're like me, you enjoy killing orcs, zombies, spiders, clowns, Kagouti, Vahzilok, and dark Jedi as much as the next guy. But every now and then you put down the mouse and think, is this all there is? Can't I just explore pretty places and, um, pet cute animals or something? Maybe hug people?

That's when you want Glitch.

Unfortunately the game just went back into beta, and it can take a few weeks to get an invite. But if you're looking for something cute and different, it's worth checking out.

Glitch, developed by Tiny Speck, is a browser-based side-scrolling MMO with pleasant graphics and music and a PG-13 sense of humor. There's some easy platform-hopping and coin-collecting, and a little prodding to cooperate and socialize. It's free--you can pay to get more costume options, but you don't need them.

All about the outfits
In a game where you can dress up as anything from a Luck Dragon to a pantsless bartender, I chose...a panda hat. Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

The crux of the game is balancing the demands of your mood and energy levels. You can cook food, make cocktails a la Kingdom of Loathing, grow crops, mine rocks, and so on. That all takes energy. Meanwhile, everywhere you go, trees and pigs--fine, piggies--want to be petted and watered or fed; other players can be hugged or kissed--or mooned or "splanked," if you have a moon or a plank on you.

Giving love raises your mood, but costs energy. Well, doesn't it? Standing around not interacting conserves your energy, but after a while your mood drops. Also true for most people.

If your energy drops too low, you die and go to a special Glitch Hell. Your mood is really low after that.

Cooperation pays
Cooperation is rewarded with extra resource yields. Also, it's a great way to meet men. And women, cardboard robots, elves, and aliens. Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

If you get tired of reassuring constantly needy pigs and trees and squeezing grain out of protesting chickens, you can buy a house and automate the resource-gathering. A smartass Magic Rock floats at the top of the screen giving simple quests, encouragement, and lip.

There are plenty of active players, which means help with group quests, a thriving auction house, and useful Greasemonkey extensions. Despite the cuteness, Glitch isn't meant for kids (it's somewhat unsettling that the big-eyed, childlike avatars can be dressed up in feather bikinis and censor bars, but you get used to it.)

It's not a "chick game" either, at least based on a real-life Glitch event I attended, which had a mix of genders, ages, and silly hats.

Gameplay is well-balanced to be fun rather than frustrating. You quickly earn more than enough currants (the in-game currency) and favor with the gods, er, Giants, to meet any goal. "Learning" skills does take a long time--several days at higher levels--but you can do it even while logged out.

I do wish some aspects of the interface were smoother: though you can mostly play from the keyboard, there's still plenty of mouse-clicking interspersed, and it's especially awkward switching between game window and chat channel. Some useful pages are hard to find, and it gets irritating being stopped by the same joke and survey every time you exit the game.

My main issue with Glitch in its current form, though, is that quite early on it starts feeling like anything you could learn, make, or buy just helps you do what you're already doing, and there's no clear reason to continue, unless you're into collecting trophies. At level 20 you get invited into the game's mythology a bit more--Rook attacks! Finally, something to fight!--but there's been no narration to draw you on to that point.

And one of the game's coolest concepts, that players' actions affect the development of the world around them, appears to be (mostly?) unrealized as yet. Apparently more content is coming --including a mobile app, which would be great, as Glitch would be perfect for a few minutes at a bus stop with an iPad. In the meanwhile, it's still laid-back, addictive fun. When the beta reopens, I'll probably still be finishing just one more quest. At 2 a.m. Wearing a panda hat.

Chicken-squeezing
From the forests to the firebogs to the savannah, keep squeezing that chicken. Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

 

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