The game was made for Casual Gameplay’s design contest #6 with the parameters to incorporate the this content’s theme: Explore. Were I to judge in the contest I would look to how well it incorporated the theme, as a critic I am looking at what that means within the game. I recommend playing it here before continue reading.
Small Worlds is a simple game. It has three buttons: left, right and jump. And that’s all the game needs. You are in an environment that you cannot see until you begin to move around and explore. The more area you cover the more black pixels disappear and the camera pulls back so you can see everything at once. From the initial hub world you travel through four portals to four different worlds where you start the process again in revealing the new environment. You only go back to the hub world when you find a glowing square that is then taken back with you to the space station/ship.
That is the entire game. There are no enemies, there are no obstacles beyond the basic platforming and there is no fail state. The game’s entire focus is on the worlds around you. The five worlds are very different in setting, but evoke the same basic premise and overarching theme. I’ll go world by world.
The hub world is a derelict station or ship; it is never made clear exactly what it is. All we know is that it is heavily damaged, with collapsed ceilings, a broken glass dome and flickering lights. We also know that it is in space somewhere. It is meant to evoke the emotions and sense of danger reminiscent of Dead Space and Alien. Something terrible happened here, but we don’t know what and will never definitively find out. All we know is the facility is wrecked; possibly beyond salvage and we are alone. The more we explore the more that is made apparent. The only places we can go are through the four teleporters.
In the white world we begin in a place of caves and snow. It is someplace in the wilderness among evergreen trees and endless snowfall. We travel through a system of caves, covered in both dirt and ice, moving underground. We soon find man-made structures, large shafts made of metal stand, but appear to have to purpose for being there. Some of the ceiling has caved-in. As you travel through to the other side of the local you come upon a screen with a map on it with several yellow dots blinking. You keep going and find more shafts, two of them this time still occupied by missiles. Suddenly you realize it is not a normal winter outside, but nuclear winter and the glowing dots were the targets hit, their number corresponding to the number of empty missile shafts.
The blue world transports us to the middle of a cityscape with water streaming down endless waterfalls. The water falls and flows over a number of platforms and we once again travel downward into an underground reservoir where we see a stream of green ooze flowing and mixing into the blue water. Traveling further down you find a water elevator that will take you to the top of the world where you find this contraption is bringing the water to the top so it can once again flow down back into the reservoir in an endless cycle. Going the other way at the top we find the gears that run the system and more carved out underground shelters. The environmental poison having taken all life.
The green world is less obvious than the others. All we can see is a bunch of floating rocks on a green background. As we move around you continue to find floating rocks spread out in every direction. This time we start at the bottom and have to make our way upward. The higher we travel the more rocks we find, bigger than the ones below. The green background fades into bright white and then back into green. The white light is a white sphere exploding with all the smaller rocks around the rim and the larger rocks in the center. We are witnessing the destruction of a planet. The white light is the explosion and the rocks the shattered ruminants. This world no longer exists.
Finally the red world changes things up by having the background being a plain black. Now we are unsure at certain points if we are pushing back the veil of pixels or not. The path is narrow and creates a spiral pattern. The walls are purple and we have no idea what we are in until we hit a white rib. We are traveling through the innards of some large monstrous space creature. It’s dead now.
All five worlds evoke the dead. Each world is dead each in its own way. Which paradoxically goes against the opening line of the game “There is too much noise…” The only noise in the whole game is the ambient music and single sound effect of reaching the glowing box. The character makes no noise, and neither do the worlds.
From this I have two theories about what happened in the game and what its meaning is.
First, we have a man alone on a space ship looking for life. The noise is all in his head. He is alone in the void of space, everything he knew and loved destroyed. It has driven him mad and he wants to relieve the pain and anguish. Traveling from world to world he finds the same thing everywhere in different forms. Nuclear winter, toxic environmental disaster, an exploding planet, and a creature’s corpse. Death and destruction follows him everywhere as does the silence of worlds. He gathers the power sources to activate the pod and releases it, with himself inside, into the sun. “Silence” the ending screen tells us. In death he finds silence; he finds peace from his own madness. Maybe he was the cause that destroyed his ship, perhaps he went mad and killed everybody, or maybe he was just a survivor of the disaster and cannot bear to be alone.