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Android App Review: Gurk, the 8-bit RPG
Sun, 23rd Mar 2014
FYI, this story is more than a year old

If you've missed the deceptive simplicity of the epic, hour-consuming RPGs of your youth then Gurk, the 8-bit RPG aims to satisfy that longing. But that satisfaction heavily relies on you having the nostalgia in the first place.

Gurk looks like the RPGs you played as a child – but only if you are over 25, and you played RPGs as a child. Just one of these things applies to me, so there's a sense of wistful nostalgia about Gurk that's totally lost on me.

I don't have warm feelings about these blocky illustrations because this is the first time I've seen them. But if you grew up on this stuff it'll all be very familiar.

This is the old-fashioned RPG at its most basic. You have a party of three, with different attributes, and there's a gridded-up wilderness out there for you to explore. And that's pretty much it.

Gurk uses its old-fashioned style to give it other benefits too – the download is only 100 kb and quite compatible with an older Android device (which is not the case with a lot of RPGs on the Play store). Also no special permissions are required, and I think this is the first time I've seen that in any of the apps I've reviewed.

The problem with stripping an RPG down to those base elements is that they actually require the fluff and ephemera to work. I understand that all you really need is random encounters with ogres and levelled-up swords, but without a bit of preamble so set the scene and give my characters some stakes, I'm struggling to care.

Did I find three gold pieces? That's cool, but I'd be more into it if I knew that whatever I purchased with them would help me save the kingdom or avenge my parents or something.

Other RPG apps boast the flashest graphics a phone can handle, and while they might have much larger downloads than Gurk, at least that flash and dazzle helps convince me that my escapist diversion is more than just repetitive grinding.

It's a nostalgia fest – you like these controls and situations only because you used to, because they were the best at an important time in your life. If they were actually, objectively the best then the video game industry (and every other industry) wouldn't have moved on and discovered things like polygons, and voice acting.

It's not that there's no story to Gurk, I'm not saying that. It's just that in the time it took me to start playing, fight the same enemies several times, get bored, get annoyed, and give up, I'd yet to see any sign of it.

Maybe a more committed RPGer would stick around those crucial extra few minutes and discover a plethora of intrigues and plot twists and revelatory character developments. But for the casual phone gamer, it's just too long to wait.

Pros: Pleasant 8-bit aesthetic, straightforward fight mechanic, oodles of nostalgia for people of a certain age and culture. Cons: The previous things are really all there is to it.