Unassuming and pleasantly warm, Bart Bonte’s SEO-unfriendly mobile puzzler, yellow (2017), finds joy in simplicity. Halfway between a series of vignettes and a digital version of those impossible metal brainteasers, yellow does not ask for much. Simply turn the screen yellow by tapping, flicking, or staring intently at your phone, impromptu Coldplay karaoke optional. That premise, however, fails to capture the delightful sense of accomplishment that causes yellow to be entertaining despite being little more than a series of motor skill exercises.
Back when the original Nintendo DS was released in (dear god) 2004, touchscreens were still a small wonder. Hundreds, possibly thousands of games were thus released focused around little more than exploring just how many ways could be found to utilize this new form of interaction. I am sure I’m not alone in having spent hours tapping around the DS’s menu, the sheer fact that I could interact with a screen with nothing but my finger providing me with an almost infinite amount of entertainment. Eventually the iPhone would be released and touchscreens would become ubiquitous across coffee-tables and supermarket checkouts. Like color TV and Bluetooth headsets, they became ordinary and just a little boring.
Which is why yellow is such a small pleasure. By effectively stripping away years of mobile game conventions – three star scoring systems, in-app purchases, an endless carrot-on-a-stick approach to progression – and hyper-focusing on a single type of gameplay, yellow recaptures a bit of the fun I felt when I first picked up a DS (and later an iPod Touch). It isn’t that yellow is revolutionary, in fact it’s the opposite. All yellow wants to be is a mildly stimulating experiment in how much can be done by restricting a game’s design to a single input and color (depending on if you count the black background or not). This might all seem like backhanded praise or attempts to talk up what is an exceedingly basic game at heart, but positioned on the App Store alongside a veritable swampland of exploitative F2P clones and ad platforms, I now consider “simple fun” rather high praise.