Indie Shorter-Than-Usual-By-Necessity-Land: Masters of Anima

I’ve made bad memory jokes on here before, right? Right. I make these on here every so often, mostly because my own absentmindedness is a never-ending source of hilarity for me, and I always worry whenever I do this that my stories seem to far-off. Too made-up. Like I’m just telling tales to entertain, instead of relaying the way my brain is fundamentally pointless.

Remember that Steam even that ran a month or so ago? The one with the checklists with games that you might enjoy? On a whim, I looked at the list of ‘games you should give a second chance’, and was surprised to find Passtech Games‘ and Focus Home Interactive‘s Masters of Anima. This was surprising mostly because I didn’t remember ever giving that game a first chance. But then I did some digging (of both the memory and email varieties), and sure enough, it turns out that I thought this game looked really neat and I got it for review purposes. In April, when it launched.

I worry that stories like ‘I bought a game because I thought it was cool, but misclicked the Steam install link and as a result almost instantaneously forgot about it for several months’ are too far out. Sometimes I’d really like them to be.

(N.B. This review will be a little shorter than you’re used to for previously documented reasons of tomfoolery. You didn’t miss much, honestly: The opening page would have included a whole bit about me not being able to tell Scottish and Irish accents apart, which — listen, I know, okay.)

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, high.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Masters of Anima, as much as I still remember of it. It’s been like, two days since I last played, I can feel my knowledge slipping.

I Got Fraps’d

So a while back (about a year and half ago) I wrote a short piece about my review writing process. In that piece, I mention using Fraps for screenshot purposes, partially because it works with almost all games and partially because I’ve just gotten used to it. It works with almost all games, but I’ve had exceptions; for instance, most HTML-based games ignore Fraps entirely. So generally, what I do before I start a review play process is test my setup: Play with the frame counter a little, take some quick test shots to see if everything’s working as intended.

Generally, I do this test process before every game.

I spent most of this week playing Masters of Anima. Really did my best to try and get through the whole game before review time. Guess what I forgot to check.

This is one of those nightmare scenarios. Except it’s all too real.

What I’m going to do is this: Without screenshots of the early game, I can’t do my traditional full review, which relies heavily on reconstructing my experiences after the fact. So tomorrow I’ll write basically only the second half of the review, and stitch that together with quick Steam screenshots I grabbed a little earlier — not quite enough for my liking, but the alternative is replaying the entire damn game, and that’s no alternative at all.

Not the kind of post I’d wanted to make after last week’s grandiose slip-up, but I guess 2018 makes fools of us all. And by us all I mean me.

Indie Time Flies When You’re Having Fun Land

…hmm? Oh hey, what are you guys doing back so soon? I appreciate the enthusiasm, but I generally only post on Mondays. So unless you were really banking on me having unexpected inspiration, showing up on Wednesday or whatever day it is right now seems uncharacteristically optimistic.

What do you mean, ‘it’s Monday again already’? That doesn’t make sense. I posted the previous review like, yesterday. And then I decided to boot up Stardew Valley again, for the first time in like a year. But just to check out my old farm. And maybe look at some of the new possible farm layouts. That’s it!

What do you mean, ‘you played like thirty hours of Stardew Valley last week’?

What do you mean, ‘you were well aware of the effect this game had on you last time, and could have known in advance that it would drain all your time and energy, leaving you stranded on the couch in a drawn-out attempt to synchronize crop cycles and give jars of mayonnaise to everyone in town’?

What do you mean, ‘this particular framing device loses power through repeated over-use’?

What do you mean, ‘chickens are great and Shane should hug them mo’ — no, actually, I totally get what you’re saying here.

Okay, okay, for real though: I got sucked into Stardew Valley, meaning I don’t have anything to review this week, and I apologize. This might mean I needed some time away from playing games through a critical lens, but I still try to be more up-front about these things. Springing it at the last minute isn’t cool.

In lieu of a new review this week, a fun thing you can do is re-read my old Stardew Valley review, which still pretty much stands — up to and including the part where it attempts to claim all my free time, everywhere, forever. Given that this review was written on launch, though, you’ll have to mentally append the following new features:

  • Shane now has a proper character arc, meaning he actually has personal development beyond the tidbits that were teased.
  • You can now marry Shane.
  • Shane can come live on your farm and look after chickens all day instead of having to slave away at a soul-crushing, life-draining job at the megacorporation supermarket that nobody in town likes and everyone resents existing despite being unable or unwilling to boycott it until such time as you fulfill literally every demand of the community market fairies.
  • This game actually has some confusing messages re: Late-stage capitalism, come to think of it (see also: Linus’ whole deal).
  • There are four new farm types to pick from, which is pretty cool — not only do they look meaningfully different, but each one emphasizes a different skill set over ‘just farming’: There’s a Forest Farm for foraging, a River Farm for fishing, a Mountain Farm for mining, and an After Dark Farm for posting things you don’t want to have on your main fighting monsters.
  • Emily also has a character and romance arc now? I guess?

    And if that’s not enough Stardew Valley for you, or alternatively, if you’re worried direct Stardew exposure will have the same effect on you as it did on me, might I recommend taking a look at the online Stardew Valley plot planner — a game that at this point in time I think I’ve played even more than Stardew Valley proper?

    For real though.

    This got wordy for an apology post. Anyway, to summarize: Stardew Valley still rules. Sorry for not having a proper review up. I’ll have something for you next week.

    Always romance Shane if given the opportunity.

    – Jarenth

Indie Shortieland: Shape of the World

Having a memory as bad as mine comes with a lot of downsides. I require external measures and software to keep track of birthdays up to and including those of my immediate family; I’ve developed a habit of patting down my pockets ‘to check I still have everything’ as a security measure; I really need to get my jackets dry-cleaned soon; I genuinely can’t remember if I’ve done this bit for an intro before or not. It is, all in all, not an experience I would recommend.

The one upside of excessive forgetfulness, though, is that it’s really relatively easy to be surprised. For instance, take Hollow Tree GamesShape of the World. I backed this game on Kickstarter back in 2015, and subsequently between then and last week proceeded to forget every single detail about this game and why I chose to support it, up to and including forgetting that it even existed in the first place. No, really. You might think that should be impossible, especially given that Kickstarter update emails are still a thing. But, what can I say? I take my absentmindedness seriously. And 2015 is at this point several decades ago.

You’ll notice from the title that this Indie Wonderland is of the shorter variety again. I’d intended to play Shape of the World sight-unseen this week, but part of what I forgot is that it’s the sort of game that doesn’t gel with the full Indie Wonderland formula well. For reasons of critical accuracy, this time, not for reasons of experience-spoiling. How do you write a full review about a game that can accurately be summed up in four sentences?

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, ???. Mechanical, sorta.)

(Game source: Backed it on Kickstarter, apparently.)

After the break: If you thought I was above holding those three lines hostage to get you to click this link, then guess what – you apparently don’t know me all that well.

Indie Wonderland: Moonlighter

Regular readers of this column will know that I generally only review two types of games: Games that I’ve been carefully and anxiously awaiting for many years, and games that I didn’t know anything about until I bought them ten minutes ago. Digital Sun’s Moonlighter is, surprisingly, the former: I’ve had some form of reminder tab floating around my Chrome hellzone ever since the first announcements and teaser trailers starting surfacing back in 2016. I try not to get prematurely hyped, but Moonlighter purported to fill an item-shop-shaped hole in my heart, left there by perennial darling Recettear and only somewhat tided over by the likes of Pixel Shopkeeper [reviewed here] and Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! [reviewed here].

Yeah, so I have a type. What can I say? Most video games are some form of power fantasy, and item shop games are a type of power fantasy I crave right now more than anything else: The ability to engage in ethical consumption under capitalism. Or, well, ‘ethical’ — I know times are tough right now, grandma, but if you can’t afford the ridiculous price tag I put on this stack of apples you’d better get the hell out of my store.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, high.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: I’m looking to have cool adventures and bilk rubes out of their hard-earned cash. Will Moonlighter deliver on either front?

Indie Cultist Simulator Land

So. Those of you who pay attention to this space (a number somewhere between two and ‘several thousand people’) may have seen that I posted something this time last week, wherein I claimed to be delayed by E3 and promised that I would, and I quote, “try to have something up for you as soon as I can manage”. And then a week of stone cold silence ensued. What happened?

Cultist Simulator is what happened, as anyone who follows me on any kind of social media might have spotted. Weather Factory‘s magnum opus grabbed my brain by the folds and refused to let go: I started playing somewhere late Sunday last week, and eight days later I have a little over 50 played hours clocked. Hell, that Sunday itself I only intended to take a quick look, and ended up playing until 3 AM or so.

This is not going to be a traditional Indie Wonderland review. For one, Cultist Simulator doesn’t really lend itself well to my review style. If I took you through the first play session blow-by-blow, my mechanical spoiler counter at the start would have to read for the love of god, don’t read this review. Moreover, for two, Cultist Simulator is a… particular game. Not niche, per se, but… challenging to grasp. I don’t know if I have the confidence to try and pull apart what parts ‘do work’ and ‘don’t work’, either ‘as intended’ or ‘in general’. Hell, I’m not even sure still why it is that I like it so much as I do. I do, obviously, just…

So, I’m doing something different. Instead of reviewing Cultist Simulator in this space, I’m going to be talking about Cultist Simulator. I’ll explain why (I think) it appeals to me, and what that says about the larger game. I might try to drag some points of praise or criticism out of the whole affair, if such points seem to present themselves. It’s going to read slightly more like the ramblings of a madman than usual, but then again, I feel that might be appropriate this time around.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, as low as I could manage. Mechanical, ditto.)

(Game source: Backed it on Kickstarter.)

After the break: Cultist Simulator, Or: Down I Go…

E3 Delay

Heya folks. Got a little wrapped up in poking fun at E3 the last few days, which impeded writing efforts. I’ll try to have something up for you as soon as I can manage.

Cheers,
– Jarenth

Indie Wonderland: Safe House

One of the neatest aspects of doing this repeated indie game reviewing gig over the years is that it’s exposed me to tons of games I wouldn’t otherwise have seen or played. It’s part of the reason I started the whole thing, really. And this has only gotten better as I got onto a few indie game review mailing lists, meaning I semi-regularly get announcements in my inbox about dates and review opportunities for games that, from my perspective, just sprung into being fully-formed.

Case study: Labs Games‘ recent Kickstarter success Safe House, a game about building and managing an undercover spy headquarters. Tell me that doesn’t sound potentially very cool.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, high.)

(Game source: Developer review key.)

After the break: Safe House, a game that was tricky to find online, since both that combination of words and ‘labs games’ yield a range of possible results.

Indie Wonderland: Spartan Fist

Glass Bottom Games is one of the few development teams whose work I actually follow. Mostly due to serendipity, though the cat-heavy focus of their games probably weighs more than I care to admit. Jones On Fire: Kitties Are Cute And Should Be Saved was the first-ever game that I bought to play on my tablet — man, remember tablets? And I wrote about Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora in the early days of 2015, back when things were calmer and we hadn’t lived through 2016 yet (review here).

And now we’ve got Spartan Fist. Which doesn’t have a lengthy side-title like its older siblings, but if it did, it would be ‘Punch Dudes So Hard They Explode’. Because that’s what you’ll be doing in this game.

I don’t need to explain why this review exists any further, do I?

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, nope. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Spartan Fist, a game in which no kitties are ever punched – they’re present, but no direct punching happens. Dudes, however…

Indie Wonderland: The Swords Of Ditto

One Bit Beyond‘s The Swords Of Ditto rather unceremoniously exploded onto my Twitter feed a few weeks ago. I hadn’t heard anything about it before that, but then, you might know that I don’t actually follow games news all that closely — either way, it came as a surprise. But a pleasant surprise: From screenshots, The Swords Of Ditto looks engaging and colourful, and from early discussion, it seemed to center around an interesting procedural gameplay system: ‘If your hero dies before defeating the dark lord, the next hero of prophecy has to deal with the consequences’. It was enough to get me to pick it up, and as such, here we are.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, somewhat high. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: The Swords Of Ditto, which may or may not feature a Pokémon blacksmith. It probably doesn’t. But wouldn’t that be cool?