In reading “What is Casual?,” Jesper Juul’s chapter outlining the typical characteristics of casual game design, I was struck by how perfectly Tsum Tsum fit into all the stereotyped expectations of casual games. Juul identifies five components of casual game design: positive fictions, usability, interruptibility, lenient punishment, and juiciness. Tsum Tsum, as I will explain, displays every one of these characteristics.
First, let’s examine the positive fiction. Casual games, Jull explains, are usually set in pleasant environments and have positive storylines. While a hardcore game may center around killing zombies, escaping an evil laboratory, or fighting a war, casual games are more likely to have much more positive fictions, such as exploring new worlds or finding buried treasure. Tsum Tsum has a very positive fiction. The game’s premise is that the tsum toys have all fallen off the shelves in the Disney store, and the player has to help arrange them in time for the shop’s opening. This premise involves helping solve a benign problem, cute toys, and a company that markets itself as the “happiest place on earth.” It’s difficult to conceive of a more positive, pleasant storyline.
Second, we’ll consider the game’s interruptibility and usability. Rounds of Tsum Tsum are only a minute long, and there’s no penalty for quitting mid-game. The player doesn’t have to reach a save point and never risks losing more than a minute’s worth of play. Clearly, the game is highly interruptible, perfect for playing while waiting in line at the supermarket or riding the bus. Juul defines usability by the intuitiveness of the controls. In short, what the player does with her body should translate in obvious ways to the actions in the game. In Tsum Tsum, the player uses her finger on a touch screen, connecting similar tsums. The movement of the finger correlates precisely to actions in the game world. The game, therefore, is highly usable.
Third, the lenient punishment and juiciness. In Tsum Tsum, getting a negative outcome is nearly impossible. The player can only accrue points. Performing poorly in a round of the game simply results in a lower score, but even a low score enhances the player’s overall stats. The game does have a limited number of free plays per day, but after running out of turns, the player merely has to wait twenty-four hours before playing again. The game’s lenient punishment is countered by its extreme juiciness. While very few negative outcomes occur if a player performs poorly, very positive ones occur when she performs well. I wrote about this juiciness in a previous post, so I won’t repeat everything here, but suffice it to say that Tsum Tsum rewards the player with all sorts of lights and sounds for a positive performance.
After reading Juul’s chapter, I was left to conclude that Tsum Tsum is the quintessential casual game. Juicy, pleasant, and very easy to use, the game meets all of Juul’s criteria for casual games. However, as Juul identifies, the simple nature of the game and the intuitiveness of the controls don’t correlate directly with easiness. The pattern recognition and quick reflexes Tsum Tsum requires take time and effort to develop, like the skills for any other game. Although being very bad at Tsum Tsum is difficult, so is being especially good at it.