Author Archives: Jarenth

Indie Wonderland: Earthlock: Festival of Magic

Hey, you know what I like? Magic. Big fan of the stuff, I love magic. In fact, you know what I wouldn’t mind? If there was a whole festival related to magic. No sir, I wouldn’t mind that one bit.

“Jarenth, is that really the best opening you have for Snowcastle GamesEarthlock: Festival of Magic?” That is really the best opening I have for Snowcastle Games’ Earthlock: Festival of Magic.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-high. Mechanical, probably high-ish.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Earthlock. Hopefully the game itself is stronger than my terrible attempts at an opening.

Indie Wonderland: Environmental Station Alpha

Another relative unknown from the endless depths of my Steam wishlist, Arvi Teikari, Roope Mäkinen, and Joonas Turner‘s Environmental Station Alpha was released a little over two years ago, in a time where the world had yet to turn into a 24/7 Stranger Than Fiction madhouse. I don’t remember how it got on my wishlist, apart from that it ‘seems neat’ from the outset. But it was on Steam Sale a few weeks ago, and so, here we are.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Environmental Station Alpha. Yeah, that’s all I got for the intro. They can’t all be winners.

Indie Wonderland: Flinthook

You know how different games represent or embody their essential themes in different ways? Some themes come across in gameplay, some in aesthetic, or narrative, or player choice, and some don’t actually come across at. I bring this up because Tribute GamesFlinthook, which as far as I can tell is a game about a rope-dashing pirate ghost, very suddenly appeared in my social media awareness: One day it didn’t really exist, the next, it was practically everywhere. Now, I realize this mostly says something about the shut-eyed way I navigate game news. But all the same, it’s amusing that Flinthook essentially hookshot its way into my awareness, making it the first game I know of that represents its essential themes in the layout of its marketing campaign.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Flinthook. Does the essential theme of ‘hookshotting to places’ continue into the game proper? I’m happy to report that it totally does!

Indie Shortieland: Specter of Torment

So, here’s the thing. The game I want to talk about this week isn’t so much a full game as it is long-awaited DLC. I’m talking (of course) about Specter of Torment, second in a line of three DLC expansions for Yacht Club GamesShovel Knight. There’s a limited audience of interest for this sort of thing: Either you already own Shovel Knight and by extension Specter of Torment and you don’t need any purchase advice, or you don’t own slash haven’t played Shovel Knight yet, in which case a Specter of Torment review is probably of limited value. For this reason, I’m keeping this review a little shorter than usual; it’s definitely only this reason, and nothing to do with the fact that I hecked up my screenshot key bindings during play. I’m sure you guys would be riveted by a series of nigh-identical pictures of me swapping through items, but alas. Better luck next time.

for real, though: Specter of Torment is still worth talking about, if for no other reason than to help you decide if you should actually spend time playing it. 2017 is proving itself to be a ridiculous treasure trove of great games; I can count up to half a dozen amazing releases I haven’t been able to give the time they deserve yet, and the number’s only that low because I don’t own all consoles yet. I’m in the stage of my life where free time has supplanted money as the prime limiting factor for which games I can play, which means I have to ask myself the same question on every new release I get my hands on: Is this actually worth investing some of my precious time of life?

Hence, Specter of Torment.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself, a long long time ago..)

After the break: I hope you all appreciate the narrative irony of me prefacing a game about the eternal looming specter of death with a rant about the ethereal wistfulness of time.

Spring Time Break Time

Hey everyone, it’s Jarenth. Hope you all had a happy non-denominational springtime-related holiday weekend? May your days have been filled with personally satisfying degrees of casual leisure, spiritual significance, and/or chocolate eggs.

I chose to spend my limited free time this week hanging out friends, family, and babies in lieu of playing indie games, so I bet you know where this announcement is heading. Regular service should resume next week.

Indie Wonderland: Epistory — Typing Chronicles

Serious question to all y’all: How do you folks keep track of interesting games? With 2017 being some sort of Good Games Singularity, it feels like a necessary luxury to keep track of games you want to at some point, but just not right now. I used to have a Steam Wishlist for that sort of thing, but the combination of a terrible user interface and my own ever-expanding interests means that that option has been on a slow Akira reenactment ever since 2014. I sometimes keep Steam store tabs open in Google Chrome, but that’s sort of crumbling under the same problem: I currently have 125 tabs open over six different windows, and none of them are tabs I feel I can ever close. So, that leaves me… what? Calendar reminders? Post-its? Writing on my whiteboard?

I’ll tell you what apparently does work. I have two monitors, with the right one serving as my ‘main desktop’; as you’d probably imagine, that place is a sprawling wasteland of a hundred icons. But the left desktop is still relatively pristine. So I’ve taken to a measure so stupid that I can’t believe I ever thought it would work: Writing down game names as file names for empty text files, and then dropping those onto the desktop.

No, seriously. This is not a goof.

Right now I’m getting ready to play Fishing CactusEpistory – Typing Chronicles, which I just bought and downloaded after seeing my desktop reminder. I hate that this goddamn system apparently works (for now), but I’ll take what I can get.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Epistory, a game that so far I’ve studiously avoided telling you anything about. What even is this game? Why did it warrant my incredibly careful reminder?

‘Indie Wonderland’: Clockwork Empires, Or The Curious Case Of The Review That Didn’t Happen

This one might get a little meta.

Long-term readers might remember that in the past I’ve been a very vocal fan of Gaslamp Games‘s Dungeons of Dredmor. Still a fan, in fact, I’m just less vocal about it. I didn’t just write a praise-filled review on the still-defunct Blue Screen of Awesome, but later followed that up with a four-page in-depth screed about all the reasons I loved that game. Ninjustin and I even had tentative plans to use Dungeons of Dredmor as the basis for a charity donation drive event. Donations for Dredmor, we’d call it. Hell, that might still pan out someday — TM, TM, TM, and all that.

So when Gaslamp Games announced their second game, Clockwork Empires, a steampunk- and Chthonic-inspired colony builder, I… I generally try to not get swept up in hype, ever since Oblivion did what Oblivion does. But I was more invested in Clockwork Empires than I usually am in games in development. I really kept up with the dev blogs for a while. I checked the Steam page for news and release dates. I even found myself tentatively planning what I’d do with Clockwork Empires when it came out: Review it for Indie Wonderland, or maybe use it as the basis for another Let’s Play? The sky was the limit in those halcyon days. I didn’t actually engage with the game when it hit Early Access, because I’ve got weird documented hangups about Early Access, but I waited.

And then Clockwork Empires actually came out. I’ll give you a moment to search the site for how much I’ve written about it since release. I’ll give you another moment to figure out where out site’s search functionality is hiding. A third, final moment is reserved for the realization that I just deliberately asked you to waste your time; yeah, it’s nothing. I got Clockwork Empires on release, and I even played it a bunch, and then I never mentioned it on the site or wrote anything about.

It turns out that Clockwork Empires just kind of sucks.

Or at least, it did suck. It’s been months since I played it; my last screenshot is dated November 20th, 2016. Might be that it got real good after I stopped playing. Might not be. A quick browse through the Steam reviews seems to reveal that Gaslamp Games stopped all work on Clockwork Empires in December of that year, so I think my take is probably still accurate.

Truth be told, I didn’t write about Clockwork Empires back when I played because I was disappointed. That’s not a good reason to not write; in fact, if anything, a disappointing game should get more press. But for the longest time, I just didn’t want to. I wanted this game to be good, and it wasn’t, and then I just wanted to not think about it again. But I did keep all my screenshots from that play time. I don’t know what’s driving me to write about it right now; maybe I just want to get some lingering disappointment off my chest. Maybe I think a late warning is better than no warning. Maybe there are lessons to be learned from the ways Clockwork Empires disappointed. Or maybe the triple-A game releases in 2017 are off the chain and I’m lagging behind on my indie game coverage like some kind of rank amateur. You choose.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, not really a factor as far as I know. Mechanical, high-ish.)

(Game source: Bought it myself)

After the break: The three whys of Clockwork Empires.

Indie Wonderland: Oxenfree

Random Jarenth Trivia: You know what bit of game dialogue has managed to stick in my mind for almost seven years now? It’s from Alpha Protocol, the section where you have a shootout with the coked-up Russian gangster (I won’t pretend to remember his name). And one of his voice taunts he uses now and again is something like, “Oh, American! Come out, come out, wherever you are! Olly olly oxenfree, whatever the fuck that means.” It stuck with me because whatever the fuck does that mean? I know the phrase, but I’ve never understood what it means, or what the context is. I want to reiterate here that I’ve been thinking about this for seven years.

But you know how I’m finally going to put this to rest? No, not ‘just fucking Google it’, what kind of pedestrian do you take me for? My plan is to play Night School Studio’s Oxenfree. Surely the best source to finally put the source of this weird saying to bed is a tangentially titled game about a bunch of teenagers spending the night on a spooky island!

What could possibly go wrong with this plan?!

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

(Game source: Bought it myself, apparently.)

After the break: Darkness, tape recorders, pop quizzes, ghost spooks, doomed frequencies. Turns out a lot of things can go wrong in Oxenfree.

Ninja Blues Writers Room: Jarenth

Hey readers. No normal review this week, sorry: It was the kind of week where I had very little time to play new games. Regular service should resume next week, assuming the universe is up for it.

Because I try to never leave you empty-handed, in lieu of a review I decided to this week write something that was requested in comments a few weeks back: An overview of / insight into my writing process. Behind the curtains at the sausage factory, so to say. I don’t know if this is of interest to any of you, and I have to stress that there really is no game review in the proceeding — I know, that’s something I would do, but I promise it isn’t. If you’ve ever wondered how I go about producing the content that I do, though, I guess today’s your lucky day.

After the break: Keep on reading, you strange soul you, for a look at all my writing secrets.

Indie Three-For-One Land: Ninja Abzû Blade

Hey readers. It’s been a while since I did one of these triple features. I usually do these either when I have a backlog of smaller games that I don’t think have enough meat for a full review, or when I didn’t get far enough into a larger game the previous week. Those of you who’ve seen my Twitter account devolve into non-stop Breath of the Wild screenshots may be able to guess the cause this time.

Not to say that the games I want to talk about this week aren’t interesting, though; there’s a reason I had each of them in my backlog. I’ve got a diverse set for you this week: one game about morphing, one game about diving, and one game about bullying. And jumping. And rolling. And delivering pizza. And piquing your interest enough to keep reading, hopefully.

(Or skip ahead to page 2’s Abzû, or page 3’s Morphblade.)

After the break: Pizza, water, and liquid metal, in no particular order or combination. That’d be rad, though, could you imagine?