Several years ago, cartoonist James Kochalka doodled a picture of an alien on a piece of paper. Now the Glorkian Warrior is the star of two graphic novels as well as a new video game created by Pixeljam, where the three-eyed hero must defend an asteroid with the help of his sidekick Super Backpack, a sentient knapsack who is both weapon and friend.
The Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork combines Kochalka's distinctive, cartoonish art style with gameplay reminiscent of the 1980s space shooter Galaga: most of your time is spent running back and forth across an asteroid, shooting up at increasingly powerful alien invaders while acquiring increasingly powerful weapons. But every layer of the game is also packed with charm, from the introductory sequences where the Glorkian Warrior chats with his backpack to the moments when your weapons power up and a chorus of children shouts "DOUBLE LASER!"
The trailer promises that "you will die a lot," which is both true and less punishing than it sounds. When the alien invaders do you in, the points you've acquired will often earn you both practical and playful new additions to the game, from tennis ball guns to exploding birthday cakes. I'm still not sure what it means to become "The President of Everything," one of the final goals that still awaits me, although I'd like to find out. There's a free demo that gives you access to the first four levels of kickable basketballs and cracker vacuums, although the complete version offers much more, including two unlockable comic books by Kochalka.
I've been reading Kochalka's comics for years, which include both kid-oriented graphic novels like Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher and autobiographical strips like American Elf, all in the same cheerful, easy style. Much like those comics, The Glorkian Warrior game is so simple that it's easy to underestimate, but it has a way of getting inside your head. When I first opened it, I felt sure that I'd play a few rounds on my laptop and then go to bed. But an hour later I was still there, trying to earn enough points to unlock an exploding ceramic cat.
Kochalka's talked a lot over the years about how passion and joy is far more important than doing things perfectly, but The Glorkian Warrior is proof positive that putting fun first doesn't have to mean sacrificing craft, and that polish is often the ally—and not the enemy—of imaginative play.