It’s been said that games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite are taking the multiplayer experience back to its roots. These “battle royale”-style games throw a hundred people into a huge arena, and only one of them is getting out alive, so players must use the tools provided to triumph over their fellow combatants and emerge victorious.
When we see this said, we give an audible scoff. “Ha,” say we. “Back to the roots? We’ll show you a multiplayer game that takes things back to their roots.” Y’see, battle royale-style games give players weapons, vehicles and other things they can use to aid them in their efforts. The games we’re talking about today are as hardcore and bare-bones as it gets when it comes to multiplayer games. That’s right: today, we wanna talk about .io games.
Let’s start with a little history lesson. The first .io game is commonly agreed to be Matheus Valadares’ Agar.io, which was released back in April 2015 for web browsers. Agar.io takes place in an extremely abstract representation of a petri dish, in which cells vie for dominance. Players take control of one cell per session, and the goal of each session is to consume agar (supporting cell wall structure material, for those not too hot on their science) as well as other players in order to grow larger and establish dominance.
Initially, each player controls a single cell, but after a certain mass level is reached it’s possible to split off into multiple cells and control each one individually. The controls are super-simple; players simply move, and if they’re larger than the thing they’re trying to consume, they consume it. This is where the appeal of Agar.io, and indeed all .io games, comes from – simplicity combined with competition in its purest form.
The name Agar.io comes from two factors: first, the material players are consuming is called “agar,” while the .io aspect is an Indian Ocean domain suffix. Valadares, a then-19-year-old Brazilian developer, originally considered names such as Cell.io, but most of Valadares’ initial suggestions were already taken. Agar.io was suggested by an anonymous user of Internet forum 4chan, and the rest is history.
A Steam Greenlight version existed at one point, but with the cessation of the Greenlight program, it’s likely that version will never see the light of day, unfortunately. It could be argued that Agar.io, and other .io games, have their roots in the Cell Stage gameplay mode of EA’s 2008 “life sim” Spore; this mode plays very similar to .io games, albeit with slightly more complexity and in a single-player context.
The original browser version of Agar.io still exists, of course, but quickly other developers began to see the possibilities of expanding and adding to this nascent genre. First came Slither.io, developed by Steve Howse and, as the name would suggest, principally inspired by both Agar.io and the classic Nokia mobile phone game Snake. There’s tank-based shooter Diep.io, which comes to us from original Agar.io creator Matheus Valadares, fish food simulator EatMe.io, and many, many more besides. With that said, it’s elementary that a new entry into the series needs to do something special to differentiate itself from the herd.
With that said, let’s talk about Krunker.io on Poki, a new .io game from the creator of farming-based .io title Moomoo.io. Krunker.io drops players into one of a few evocatively minimalist maps, arms them with a weapon of their choice and then asks them to go forth and kill their fellow man as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A timer in the top-right ticks down, and the player or team with the highest score at the end of that timer is the winner, after which a new round begins and the competition starts anew. This is a refreshingly simple approach to multiplayer games which even the battle royale titles we discussed earlier can’t hope to match; there are no ammo pickups here, no health pickups (although health does regenerate over time) and no vehicles or buffs to speak of.
What this adds up to is a ridiculously addictive take on both the battle royale genre and the .io game. Respawning and getting back into the action is about as quick and painless as it’s possible to be; as soon as you die, simply pick your loadout and your server and you’re ready to go again.
A number of different loadouts are available to players, too, so your individual playstyle is sure to be catered for. Are you a sniper who likes to pick off enemies from a distance? Are you a revolver-wielding gunslinger who needs to get up close and personal for the kill to matter? Perhaps you’re a rifle-loving grunt, a machine gun-toting soldier whose only allegiance is to themselves or their team? Whichever weapon suits you best, Krunker.io delivers.
All of this is rendered in a delightfully compelling, almost Minecraft-esque blocky aesthetic. There’s something viscerally satisfying about the chunky textures and thick, defined lines of the characters, so shooting them never feels anything but edifying on a basic level. The simplicity of the game is rooted, of course, in its parent genre; .io games are all about a back-to-basics approach, and nowhere is this more evident than Krunker.io.
Unlike its stablemates, though, Krunker.io offers just the right amount of tactical depth and complexity to involve its players for longer than just the obligatory few sessions before the lunch break is over. This is partly because the maps in Krunker.io offer a surprising amount of verticality and range, so it’s not just a matter of a flat petri dish or a bland, blank canvas on which to paint your victory.
All told, Krunker.io represents a welcome evolution for the .io genre. By melding the best aspects of battle royale games and .io games, while also avoiding those genres’ typical flaws (the instant respawn is very nice indeed), Krunker.io earns itself a place in the .io pantheon. Be sure to give this game a try if it sounds appealing.