City Tuesday

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Return to Adventure Mountain for Xbox 360, originally released in 2012.
City Tuesday is a somewhat experimental title involving time travel, bomb disposal, and the humor and mundanity of a city’s hapless citizens as they go about their daily lives. The game is presented in an interesting graphical style built entirely upon infographics, those generally wordless pictographs that give directions or explain how to avoid serious injury through improper escalator usage and suchlike.

As the game begins, the player finds that time has stopped, and everyone appears to be stuck in the midst of their regular lives, mid-step on a walk through the park, frozen while tending to their daily routines, and even paused mid-fall as they slip on a wet floor. The world is presented in greyscale, while the protagonist’s shirt appears in red, and a few key interactibles are highlighted with colored icons.

Of course, while the world is stopped, the protagonist is able to move freely. Controls are limited, and the player may only move to the left and right, ascend and descend escalators, and perform a low 1x jump (which isn’t actually required for the bulk of the game). The player may also open a subway-style map that shows the general layout of the game world, with each of its single-screen environments presented as a node, and connectors showing where paths branch.

As the player moves through the paused cityscape, he eventually comes to a door that allows him access to a museum. Upon entering the door, the player informed that he has 1 minute before the bombs will go off. Time is now running normally, and the player must move from one screen to the next to collect each bomb before time runs out.

The museum area essentially acts as a tutorial, showing the player the basics that will be needed for future scenarios. For instance, any bomb picked up is considered collected, even if the timer runs down. Running out of time simply ends the “day” and resets the scene, and the player must go through it again until he gets it right. The timer resets each time the player moves from one screen to the next.

The player also learns that he can fast-forward time at will, causing the world around him to speed up as he continues to move at normal speed. This mechanic is used to avoid waiting around for impactful events to unfold, such as waiting for an NPC to drop an object that needs to be picked up.

While your core task is bomb collection, there is quite a bit of humor to be found as well, and there are little details about the various NPC’s if you walk up to them tap the ACTION button. These can impact gameplay as well, as some of areas have valuable tips that can be gained by checking on them or listening to their conversations, including passcodes to unlock doors. Players may also interact with a number of objects, potentially initiating actions from NPC’s, such as ringing a doorbell to cause a person to emerge from their home. These interactions are often the key to solving the game’s many puzzles.

Once the first area is cleared, the player is returned to the original time-stopped area, and he runs to the right, revealing that the next section has opened. Here, the player is given 3 minutes per screen to clear the bombs, and the solutions are somewhat more complex. For instance, one area features a terrorist who has not yet placed his bomb, and he is waiting for the people around him to be distracted so he can drop it in a waste bin unseen.

By checking the nearby NPC’s, you find that a couple of them have red icons above their heads instead of blue. These NPC’s are looking for a bit of money, of which you have none. But, by watching the events of the world unfold, you see someone go downstairs and buy a soda, after which you can go up to the machine and shake it to get the spare change. You can do the same to a gentleman who uses a nearby payphone, but you have to get the money before the armored van shows up with a guard who collects the money from the phone and takes it away. All of this occurs within the allotted 3 minute window while the bomb counter ticks down.

This is a great example of a puzzle that you will probably mess up the first time or two you try it. As with many of the levels, careful observation of the world will help you to determine what you need to do to succeed. For instance, you know that 2 citizens need money. And on 2 occasions, you see someone walking along with a money icon floating near them, indicating that they are carrying what you need. Since you can’t interact with them directly, you have to wait for your opportunity to get the money that they leave behind. A clue to this is the boy that is wandering around downstairs where clicking the ACTION button on him shows that he has been down there all day collecting change that was left behind.

You might also mess up the solution by picking up the money and giving it to someone too early. Since each person is only distracted for a limited time (indicated by a humorously-designed distraction meter above their heads), you need to distract them both simultaneously to ensure that the terrorist drops the bomb. Once you’ve figured out the solution, you can use the fast-forward function to speed through the scenario and solve the puzzle without waiting around. There is no penalty for repeating the day.

As it turns out, all of this is just a primer for the final set of levels. In the final area, there is a 5-minute timer and 18 connected screens. In previous levels, the action from one screen didn’t have much to do with that of the next, and the timer reset when you moved between them. Not so here. In the final area, the entire city is interconnected, with NPC’s moving from one area to the next, and there are 4 bombs to be collected.

Here, you have to carefully monitor the actions of the citizens and terrorists, particularly near areas where bombs have been placed (indicated on the map), and watch how events unfold. One bomb sits in a safe that you cannot enter, but an armored vehicle shows up to collect the money bags… one at a time… moving along slowly enough that much of your time counts down in the process. And then he drives away, leaving you no opportunity to grab the bomb. Instead, you must chase down the truck which is on its way to the bank, where you again watch the guard unload the bags one at a time.

Running through the city, you will see a number of people going about their day, but several of them are unknowing participants in the bomb plot. You must watch what they do, even following some of them around until you get the information you need to access the hidden bombs.

There aren’t many games that have this sort of try-and-repeat time travel mechanic, and even fewer that place you within a living world where the actions of NPC’s impact the overall gameplay, with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask as the standout example. The result is that the player becomes more invested in the world around him and even the most mundane of activities can be seen as a potential asset when it comes to solving some of the game’s more clever and complex puzzles.

The game offers a fairly short experience, clocking in at around 30 minutes from beginning to end, or perhaps a bit longer if you stop to read every blurb or get stuck on a puzzle solution. Most of the more complex and interesting mechanics come into play in the back half of the game, but these are predicated on successful completion of the simple single-screen puzzles in first half. As such, players only experiencing the game’s timed demo will miss out on much of what makes this game truly interesting.

City Tuesday was created by an Arizona-based studio called Return to Adventure Mountain, headed by Chris Zukowski, and this was his first game. Chris designs user interfaces for a living and has a fascination with icons and other pictographic representations, which explains the game’s overall style. He came up with the concept for the game in 2010, when taking the train back from the Game Developer’s Conference, and he saw an infographic showing people escaping from the train.