I have a confession to make: I hate mobile gaming. I hate the predatory nature of the “timed unlock” mechanics that plague the industry, I hate that they all have copy and paste artwork, and I hate the lack of story that most mobile games are missing. The only mobile games that I have ever enjoyed (besides the Super Mario Run) are games that first appeared on consoles (chief among them being XCOM: Enemy Within). I’ve argued for video games to be considered an artistic medium like film or sculpture, but sometimes it feels like mobile games represent everything wrong with the gaming industry.
Which is why Pangolin’s Puzzle feels like such a breath of fresh air: the game takes the traditional look and feel of mobile games but works to subvert them with its message that marries Christianity and conservationism. Pangolin’s Puzzle recounts the story of a little pangolin who is separated from their mother by poachers. The story unfolds via cutscenes that take place between levels, while the levels themselves are made up of puzzles on an isometric grid. Although I’m not very good at puzzle games, the puzzles themselves weren’t over-the-top difficult.
What elevates Pangolin’s Puzzle is its commitment to telling a meaningful story about complex subjects such as poaching and the need for concerted conservation efforts across the globe. I wasn’t just pushing through the puzzles to get to the next puzzle or (as other mobile games often do) forced to wait around until either (a) the timer runs out, letting me play the next level, or (b) I purchased gems/stones/hearts/lives with real world money to continue on without the wait. Here I learned about pangolins and their plight and thought seriously about my contribution to global wildlife. According to the makers, pangolins are “the world’s only scaly mammal.” Considered one of the most trafficked animals in the world, these creatures are often hunted for the supposed mystical properties of their scales. However, there are several organizations (a few of whom are supported by the gamer makers with 50% of in-game app purchases) that are dedicated to stopping the poaching of pangolins. The story draws heavily from this real life problem.
Pangolin’s Puzzle’s developers, a husband and wife duo that goes by the name Hero Factor Games, also blend their conservation activism with their Christian faith: “We believe that ideas and choices have consequences. Each choice we makes leaves an eternal impression on our hearts, minds, and souls. For us, the issue of environmental stewardship goes deeper than respecting our beautiful planet; it reflects what we believe about the God who made the heavens and earth.” At a time when there are many reasons to doubt the sincerity of Christians’ regard for the environment, Hero Factor Games acts as a helpful witness to the love of God for His creation.
While many mobile games attempt to exploit their user base, Hero Factor Games turns that formula on its head, using mobile games to both entertain and to inspire players to think about something outside of themselves. If other developers can follow in these steps, making games that aren’t simply meant to be slot machines on steroids but can actually help gamers to engage in real issues without being overly “preachy,” mobile games might just be able to be redeemed from themselves.