Screencheat’s central gimmick is its strength. It’s certainly the reason why everyone wants to write about it. At its core is an idea we can all embrace: an attempt to take shooters back to the time when you played with four buddies, huddled round a 17 inch CRT screen cheating like bastards. But after playing Screencheat for the first time this week I wasn’t reminded of Goldeneye or Perfect Dark or Timesplitters.
I was reminded of Mario Kart.
Because as much as screen cheating was a ‘thing’ in console shooters, it was of truly paramount importance in Mario Kart’s Battle Mode. Particularly in the N64 version. In shooters you could rely on reaction times and map knowledge. But with Mario Kart 64, zipping around a fairly large, conveniently colour coded-coded battle map — if you weren’t screen cheating you were doing it wrong. Anticipation, having an understanding of where your enemy was going to be and when? That was a huge part of successfully lodging a red shell where the sun don’t shine.
The colour coding of the battle mode maps in Mario Kart 64 was a signpost. It was permission granted. It informed players that in order to play Mario Kart 64 you better be looking at your screen and using its colour-coding to figure out precisely where opponents were relative to your position. Mario Kart 64 was essentially telling its players: it’s okay to cheat. Our levels are designed to help you to cheat.
Screencheat is exactly the same. As suggested by the name ‘screen cheating’ is mandatory — you literally can’t see your opponent on your small quarter of the screen — but a huge part of the game is recognising precisely where your opponent is. This is made easier with the level design itself, which is colour coded ala Mario Kart, and layered with cleverly positioned landmarks that enable you to pinpoint where other players are and anticipate their movements.
First person shooters never really had that self-awareness in their level design. Mario Kart did. Particularly Mario Kart 64. In Goldeneye, for example, screen cheating depended on a certain amount of pre-knowledge of the map you were playing. This isn’t the case with Screencheat, and that’s part of its genius. It’s set up, from the ground-up, for screen cheating, just like Mario Kart 64 was.
And you can successfully screen cheat from day one.
In the first map I played, for example, each floor had a colour. You could tell precisely what floor players were on by looking at their screen. You could tell where they were on that particular floor by placing them relative to specific landmarks on that floor — a painting, a statue, etc.
A second map resembled the ‘Block Fort’ map from Mario 64 — each quarter of a simple arena-style map featured a very specific colour scheme, allowing players to tell exactly where their opponent was despite the fact he or she was invisible. Simple, pitch perfect level design. Just like Mario Kart.
Point being: Screencheat is a first person shooter by definition, but in reality it’s a throwback. It doesn’t play like a shooter at all. It feels more like a traditional Nintendo game. It feels more like Nintendo Land or Mario Kart. It’s less of a competitive experience and more like a communal focus of discussion. It’s a game that allows you to laugh — at yourself and the people you are playing with. It’s something to talk about. It’s something to do. It’s more like Pictionary than Quake. More like Balderdash than Call of Duty.
More like Mario Kart than Goldeneye.