Banja is an old but still good and mostly unknown online game in which you guide the eponymous character around the island of Itland, solving King’s-Quest-style puzzles and playing minigames. The game has a sort of “proto-Animal-Crossing” feel to it, because many events in the game rely on “real-world” time; the game’s 12 chapters are only available one each month, certain puzzles are time-based, and can only be solved over the course of several days, there are scheduled events, and there are daily events, like Sydney, the hovercraft-riding, K.C.Slider-esque DJ who gives you a new record everyday. Unlike Animal Crossing, however, Banja seems designed to be played casually; your “money” is jars of honey that are periodically created by the bees who live in your refridgerator, and once you’ve spent them all you’re done for the day (in fact, you can’t even save them up much, since they spoil after a while), and after about 15 minutes of playing you’ve usually done all you can do for the next 12 hours, even if you’re a completist and hunt down all the plants and animals necessary to fill your sketchbooks. The game’s dialogue system is especially inspired; characters speak in a completely iconic text, and all other text is kept to a bare minimum, so no matter what your native language is you will never have any problems figuring out what’s going on or what you have to do. (Incidentally, the game’s creators are French.) It also features some of the catchiest music and sound effects known to man.
There are two elements to Banja that make it especially surprising: first is that it was written entirely in Flash 5 (except, of course, for the backend, which is probably php), and second is that its exploratory, non-violent, casual gameplay actually pre-dates Animal Crossing.
If you like Animal Crossing, or if you just want to waste 15 minutes on something fun every day or so, you should go check it out. Especially now, since the game just reset (as it does every year) back to the first chapter, so you can get in right at the beginning. Just try to ignore the occassional oblique pot references if you’re normally offended by that sort of thing.
Update: And, of course, just as I post this it looks like their server is down. Hopefully it’ll be back up tomorrow.
Update update: It looks like the problem is actually just that it doesn’t like Firefox; it loaded just fine when I tried it again with IE. Maybe they’ll fix that, but since the creators have disbanded and the game appears to be pretty much running on autopilot it’s pretty doubtful.