When you think about it, kissing is pretty weird—all those sloshing fluids and semi-controllable fleshy bits. The point, I am told, is not to think about kissing. Good luck with that. You are not—I repeat: ARE NOT—going to go through life without thinking about kissing. It’s just not going to happen. So you might as well concede that kissing is a bit weird.
Smooth Operator, which Beardo Games released for iOS on Thursday, embraces the weirdness of kissing. That is not to say that the game is anti-kissing—far from it. Smooth Operator wants you to kiss. It wants you to kiss within the game’s universe. It wants you to kiss everywhere else, for that matter.
Let’s begin with the in-game kissing. Much like sleep-away camp, Smooth Operator is composed of a series of two-player kissing challenges. You can choose to have these make-out sessions at various spots across town. Once at the arcade or pizza parlor, you make out. With whom? Any of the game’s 20-something characters, be they male or female. Kissing moves are executed by swiping patterns on the screen. The more complex the motion, the more complex the kiss. Is kiss complexity a necessary good? I don’t know, but it earns you points, so that’s something. Kissing is sometimes described as tonsil hockey, but in Smooth Operator both players are on the same team. Their coordination is essential in pulling off the perfect kiss.
Much of Smooth Operator’s experience takes place outside of the iPhone or iPad. It encourages players to sit in close proximity by forcing them to share a small screen. Their movements can intersect awkwardly, creating a strange sort of intimacy. Smooth Operator is not a game that teaches actual skills through gameplay in the manner of Bounden (2014) or even Dance Dance Revolution (1998). The swipes on its screen do not correspond to moves that you can pull off in real life. Your finger’s muscle memory is not transferrable to your tongue. While you can play Smooth Operator and retain clear boundaries, the game does encourage kissing even if it does not teach it. What are semi-coordinated strange bodily movements other than preparations for kissing?
Smooth Operator is successfully pitched as a cheerful trifle, but it is also a journey through Woody Allen-inflected anxieties. After all, this is a game where your kissing performance is scored just like a figure skater’s. How are you supposed to push the existence of the scoring system to the back of your mind? What does the French judge make of your dismount, pray tell? If overthinking kissing is your problem, Smooth Operator is not really a cure. You’ll still think about kissing, but at least your thoughts will be more amusing.