Emojiam has a simple premise: make a game in seven days based on a design document written in emojis. Participants were free to interpret the document as they wished, skipping some sections if desired, so long as the game was in some way inspired by the document.
The result is 19 fresh new games, all of which offer unique spins on the design document and demonstrate the individual talents and aspirations of each designer. We divvied up the games between the two of us, except for the two multiplayer games and Hot Water, because only one of us has an Android device. We committed to short reviews of each Emojiam game, but we also had a bit to say about the design document itself.
First of all, it’s genius. Game jams often use themes to inspire participants, but Emojiam’s is particularly fun because it, in itself, is a kind of game. Together, we puzzled over what each cryptic symbol could mean—should the games be titled Sunset Wave? Does the eggplant and rainbow technical requirements mean that each game should have sexy LGBTQ+ themes, or maybe a literal eggplant? That’s part of what makes the jam so fun; looking at each entry and how it relates to the document gives players an extra level of engagement you won’t find in many other jams.
Though it sadly doesn’t appear that anybody incorporated an excessive amount of horns in the music section, we’ll be lenient of this egregious error and review each game as an individual example of each developer’s talent exactly as they deserve—with both words and emoji. Congratulations to all of Emojiam’s participants—it takes a lot of skill and bravery to make a game, and with each one being made in a week or less, each one is an impressive entry.
All 18 games can be found for free on Emojiam’s itch.io page.
Emoji Cooking is a sort of Diner Dash-inspired arcade game in which you micro- and macromanage a restaurant at a summertime resort. You’re required to make meals for different emoji diners, filling their plates with the food emoji they desire. But you also have to watch your inventory, sending other emojis out to different fishing spots to keep your fish stock up. Though it’s fairly easy, it’s a cute little game that holds a lot of potential for expansion, particularly some more challenging additions.
Have you ever wanted to be a pro volleyball player, but you also really want to be a hamburger with arms? Congrats, Emojiam means you can now have both! Summertime Splash is like playing paddle ball on the set of psychedelically colored 1980s beach TV set, complete with an authentic 4:3 fisheye effect for added style points. Also, I’m really bad at it and the longer you last, the more colorful things get. Absurd, but also immeasurably repayable for those of us that have a “one more round” mentality.
Ripple is infuriatingly intriguing because there’s no tutorial and is sometimes glitchy and my hands are so uncoordinated, but GOSH DARN IT, WHY IS THAT 🐙 FLYING THROUGH THE AIR? You play a squid that has to fight off enemies while placing bridges to make a path for your yellow squid friend because he’s afraid of ink (what a loser, amirite?). I’m coming back to this game; I have to know what happens to that squid that’s spinning in the air in the cutscenes. P.S. Sit on the menu: the squid dance is my favorite part.
Galaxy of Fish
Pick a planet, then abduct all of its fish. It’s your goal to annihilate the galaxy’s fish population until you’ve fished up all of the sea creatures in Galaxy of Fish—maybe you’ve got a intergalactic sushi business to run, or maybe you’re just starting a sick-ass aquarium? Preemptive reminder: you cannot catch a giraffe with a fishing rod; wtf was I thinking? Oh, and you can take cute pics and store them in a photo album. It’s very fun, especially if you’ve got a completionist streak that drives you towards that magic 100 percent.
Capture Horizon is so polished that it’s hard to believe it was made in just seven days. This innovative little platformer requires you to take photos to create new platforms to jump to, giving you the freedom to solve each puzzle however you see fit. It’s tricky but not frustrating, and you have the option to skip a level at any time. With soothing music and moody visuals, Capture Horizon is a complete package that’s a joy to play.
😍❤️🐟 (Heart-eyes Heart Fish)
This game is a bit nonsensical but charming nonetheless. You’re presented with a sort of emoji love equation that must be solved by entering which fish each figure likes best. Results appear to be randomized each time, so it becomes a game of memory or strategic clicking to solve. Though it’s simple in execution and lacks replayability, trying to use logic on it is indeed a good time.
Sundown Waveveves succinctly captures one of mankind’s greatest conflicts: choosing between your partner or your pet. On the left you’ve got your girlfriend (who is waiting for you to fish her up some dinner) and on the right you have your cat (also waiting for dinner). Your goal is to capture the fish that your girlfriend/cat ask for, then deliver them fresh to their plate/dinner bowl. It’s a clever concept that makes for a very playable game. My only complaint is that your score gradually drains over time—it’s almost impossible to keep both your girlfriend and your cat happy. Then again, maybe that’s just an added realistic touch, right?
Long Walk at Sunrise
Long Walk at Sunrise is a simple board game about bringing together a snail and octopus who are in love. It’s also the only board game to come out of Emojiam. We ramped up the difficulty with a few house rules, making our snail/octopus romance a tale of starfish-crossed lovers (eh, eh?). It was fun with a friend that knows how to adjust a board game on the fly, but it also seemed a little low effort. The instructions were confusing and the characters/game board were made out of emojis (no custom-made graphics), making the whole thing look like it had been put together in less than an hour (even though the jam lasted a full week). We did have fun making up stories about the love life of our snail/octopus pairing, though.
—Melissa and Stephani
Emoji Game was not at all what I expected—from its lackluster title and low-effort image on the Emojiam page, I expected something a bit more ironic. In fact, it’s quite a cute little choose-your-own adventure story told through emojis. Naturally, it requires some deciphering, but misinterpretations are all part of the fun. There’re a few different endings, which is quite impressive considering the short development window.
The writing in this wasn’t great—you can’t expect much with only seven days, but I feel like I’m at least entitled to proper spelling and capitalization. Rising Tide is an ominously silent detective experience punctuated by moments of startling sounds and odd background choices (ask me about the ice cream fish, I dare you). It rather blatantly points towards some sort of Lovecraftian plot (“cthulhu fhtagn”), then ends abruptly after only a few scenes with a note from the developer thanking the player for trying the demo. It’s very unfinished, and what’s currently there isn’t intriguing enough to entice me into checking out the eventual full version of the game.
A Thousand Dormant Machines
A Thousand Dormant Machines feels a bit like an installment of WarioWare. There are, in fact, one thousand dormant machines, all of them containing an emoji-themed minigame where you must eat (read: click) the emoji until it disappears before a timer runs out. In another minigame, you must chop (read: click) the emoji into the right number of pieces. Sure, it’s shallow, and sure, it’s repetitive, but the game has such a fabulous style that it leaves a lasting impression regardless. Smooth controls, bright, poppy colors, and gratuitous use of flashy patterns make for a nearly overstimulating but completely charming minigame.
A Word Worth a Thousand Pictures
I love Twine games, but this one really isn’t… well, it doesn’t even seem finished? There’s a sun and a girl and some other emoji that tell a vague story, then I click 🐙 to continue, then there’s a few more sets of emoji (presumably with a plot I just can’t get my brain to follow) and there’s nowhere else to go. Not much to review. 😒
Sun Islands Resort: The Aftermath
There’s something kind of delightful about Sun Islands Resort: The Aftermath’s complete incomprehensibility. Aliens attack the titular resort, destroying the bridges connecting each island, and you play as a pirate attempting to repair those bridges… I think. It’s not clear how the opening scene and gameplay are related, but you platform your way through enemies and obstacles, using the pirate’s abilities to smash through barriers and avoid attacks. The sprites and animations are quite nice, especially for being made in seven days, but I ran into numerous glitches that prevented me from continuing, such as a continuous cycle of restarting without progress and falling into a hole I couldn’t escape from. Still, there’s charm to it, and the attention paid to mechanics and art bodes well for games where CyberGunk can really invest time into polishing the final product.
Envelopes come flying onto the screen, you click to open them, and then you sort the emoji you find inside of them into piles. The game says it’s a puzzle, but it’s more like an extreme test of your reflexes. If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to play above Easy mode. Emoji Sort could have used a continuous mode and a high score board, as it is there’s not much to inspire you to keep playing it over and over again. Also, no music makes me sad.
Colorful Fish Counter
Colorful Fish Counter is a deceptively simple game. You click the type of fish displayed in the upper left corner to send down a hook and scoop them out of the tank, but the number of fish gradually increases until it’s hard to discern which is which. Though it’s not much to look at, the premise is sound and it’s pretty fun—there’s a real sense of progress as your ability to pick out the fish improves the longer you play. It’s an arcade-style game, more about endurance than winning, which gives it a fun sense of replayability despite its simple premise and presentation.
Normal Fisher Day
Quirky and fun, this was one of the highlights of Emojiam for me! You play a clunkily drawn fisherman who goes out to catch fish sandwiches for his broom-wife by using the mouse to draw nets and shoot trumptopuses (trumptopi?). The music is simple but entertaining, the characters are full of self-effacing humor, and the controls were easy to figure out (which is impressive for only seven days!). I enjoyed playing this one and will probably come back to it to try and beat my high score!
I am almost universally terrible at first-person shooters, so Emoji Blaster was a bit (very much) of a struggle. It looks great—the assets are nice, the graphics and animations are smooth, and the controls are responsive. With five different levels of varying difficulty, the game offers players the ability to test their aim and response time against the emojis that fall from the sky. It’s not particularly complex, but it’s a fun and fully functional game that works precisely because it is so simple.
Editor’s Note: A review of a game previously covered in this article has been removed at the request of the creator, who has removed the game from itch.io after reconsidering its message.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.