i found game 50 on a site, strangely titled "assage home", that offers little information. the package is described simply as "50 games in 1". looking through the screenshots, however, i was intrigued. many of the games seemed to be clones - i picked out balloon fight, pac-man, super mario bros., dig dug, ice climber, lode runner, bubble bobble, battle city and even flicky - all retitled bizarre strings of letters like "svgrz" and "apk.spk".

what intrigued me, however, was how the games all seemed to have been remade with the same tileset. it looked like someone had gathered all these different games together and taught them to speak a common language. the whole package cost just usd5, so i bought it. it ended up being all i expected and more.

though each game has its self-contained folder, a launcher program is included to browse and run the games. starting it up reveals the following message:

Please choose a game from the left list.
Then, it starts by pushing "Run" button.

clicking a game's inexplicable title brings up an instruction sheet with beautiful japlish instructions like, "A power is raised when you keep pushing [Z] or A Button. When you leave it, a board protrudes, and a ball is fliped."

once i began actually playing the games i learned that my metaphor of a shared language was more apt than i'd expected. the games share not only tiles but sound effects - a metallic tink, a popping sound, a messy-sounding squelching noise - collectables - in addition to every possible fruit, the ubiquitous "earthquake" item - and the collection's one special effect - a sprite bursting into small chunks, usually accompanied by the squelching noise. there are even gameplay mechanics that seem to pass from game to games, like the ladder building and bomb dropping.

as for the games themselves, all of the clones i anticipated are there - balloon fight even has bonus stages - in addition to some i hadn't. "budgie 2" is actually chack'n pop, and - incredibly - "qnJkhb" is a loose clone of nights! but what's more intriguing are the clones where the developer - for whatever reason - took liberties with the play mechanics. the sokobon variant features exploding boxes, which can be used to take out other boxes instead of pushing them onto the marked spaces. the bomberman game is a sidescroller.

the most unexpected discovery, however, was that many of the original games are very good. "cow" is a fun vertical platformer that works very well, "tuti" is a crafty fusion of a minesweeper-esque logic game and bomberman, "skull power plant" is a smart game where the player fires and dodges richocheting bones to knock down hovering skulls, "rolld" is a donkey kong variant where the player builds and climbs ladders while avoiding rolling boulders, "figsfig 2" is a fun game about collecting falling money and strange alphabetical power-ups ("N" is "new world", which causes flying chicks to appear, the "E" earthquake actually makes the game window move) until you inevitably grab a "D" forgetting that it's "death" and lose instantly.

there are - amidst a handful of unplayable titles - some very good ideas here! "ie<sos" is a galaga-like alien-blasting game, but with the stipulation that the houses (and trees and billboards) behind you can be destroyed missile command-style by the enemies. the great part, though, is that when an enemy ship is shot a handful of tiny aliens pop out and begin fluttering downwards, intend on attacking the town. it's brilliant.

it's this sort of thing that makes game 50 such an anomaly. there's a mix of genius and terrible that suggests the author couldn't decide what was a good or a bad idea and - with a staple library of sprites, sounds and programming gimmicks - just implemented idea after idea after idea. the result is a weird and beautiful hodge-podge, and worth its low price of admission just for the investigation and discovery.