Author Archives: Jarenth

Indie Wonderland: Phantom Doctrine

In lieu of hearing about it through professional channels, most of my info on Phantom Doctrine (developed by CreativeForge Games and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment) came from hearing about it from a friend who played — and by ‘hearing about it’, I mean ‘extended chat and tweet sessions about how this game casually encourages you to commit heinous human rights violations’. And I still got it for myself, in case you were ever wondering about the power of word-of-mouth marketing. But then, it’s not like ‘nu-XCOM, except set in the Cold War era’ was ever going to be a particularly difficult sell for me.

And those human rights violations? That’s easy, I just won’t do ’em.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: It’s notoriously easy to stay on the right side of the line when engaging in worldwide shadow warfare, as I’m sure Phantom Doctrine is about to demonstrate.

Indie Something Completely Different Land: BostonFIG 2018

Hey readers. You’ll notice this is not a usual Indie Wonderland title.

A combination of happenstance and stellar alignment saw 2/3rds of Ninja Blues’ authorship coexist in the same space last week, as Ranneko’s work sent him to the greater Boston, Massachusetts area (where I currently live). And while you might hope this would be grounds for unprecedented article/video collaboration opportunities, the truth wasn’t quite that: We elected instead to play games, eat bad American foods, and reenact parts of Fallout 4. I had time to play like, half a video game during the week.

Of course we played Star Realms. This was *specifically requested*.

That said, one tangentially site-related thing we did do was visit the 2018 Boston Festival of Indie Games, a one-day games convention where independent developers come to showcase, sell, and elicit Kickstarter promises about their latest stuff. I didn’t find any one game I’d currently want to write a feature on, and most of our time was spent in the tabletop/board games at any rate. In lieu of deep dives, I’ll try to convey some short impressions of the games I’ve seen and played; most of these games are currently gearing up for Kickstarters, so there’s not a whole lot to link to, but any links I can find are included.

Regular writing resumes next week.

After the break: A small selection of BostonFIG 2018 games, and what I thought about them!

Indie Wonderland: Two Point Hospital

An interesting thing happened in the process of drafting this week’s review: An American friend told me that Bullfrog’s old Theme line of games, of which Theme Park and Theme Hospital are probably the most notable, never got quite as much traction in the States as they did in Europe. This was surprising to me, because I don’t think I knew anyone back then who was into games and didn’t play either of those two. I played both, and while Theme Park was the one I spent more time with, Theme Hospital is the game that stuck with me the most. I still occasionally hum some of its music. It stuck with me partially because it was one of the first business simulation-esque games I ever played, much moreso than Theme Park (which I played mostly as an excuse to build bad rollercoasters), and partially because I don’t remember seeing anything else like it since. Theme Park had sequels, competitors, spinoffs, Planet Coaster a fairly recent entry. What does Theme Hospital have?

Well, thanks to the efforts of Two Point Studios, Theme Hospital now has a proper spiritual sequel: Two Point Hospital, only the second-ever game I’ve ever played about building a hospital and trying not to kill a majority of your patients.

To which I can only say: I’ll try.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Can Two Point Hospital stack up to that fondly-remember game of decades past? Probably nothing can, but we’ll see if it makes a good effort!

Indie Shortieland: Donut County

So an interesting thing happened last weekend. I’d gotten my hands on Ben Esposito‘s Donut County, acquired off the strength of a bunch of people talking and sharing screenshots about it. Earmarked as a review game, I figured I’d play it a little to close out my Sunday night, and then plan how much I’d have to play more to get a good enough idea of it and where that would fit in my schedule. You know, the usual stuff.

And then I blinked and it was two hours later and I had completed the whole game. Even got a few of the secret achievements to boot.

I’ve thought about doing a full Donut County review, since obviously I liked it enough to play the whole dang thing in a single sitting. There’s just… not that much to talk about? A full analytic deep-dive would pretty much turn into me describing the whole game blow-by-blow, and I don’t want to inflict that on anyone. Least of all you.

I still want to give Donut County the added publicity it deserves, though. And if that’s not what the Indie Shortieland formula was ad-hoc-created for, I don’t know what is.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, low-ish.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Donut County, or: A whole bunch of mischief.

Indie Wonderland: Molecats

…no, hang on, wait a minute. I could have sworn I’ve seen this game before. And I would be right, in a way: While Vidroid‘s Molecats saw release a week ago, it started life as ‘Molecat Twist‘, way back in 2011. I remember playing the demo a little bit, not backing it on Kickstarter, and subsequently losing sight of it.

Until today! Review coordination newsletter emails are a magical thing. Small world, huh?

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, nearly nothing. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Developer review key.)

After the break: I’m sure that forgetting about Molecats for seven years straight in no way indicates the impression this new and exciting product will leave on me.

Indie Wonderland: Dead Cells

I’ve been waiting for Motion Twin‘s Dead Cells to go gold for months now. It’s been around for what feels like ages, but always with my most hated caveat: Early Access. “You can play our game now, if you want! It’s incomplete and you’ll spoil the full experience for yourself, but if you absolutely can’t wait…”

Okay, that’s an unfair representation of how Early Access was used here. I understand that many developers nowadays employ it as a method of user-involved development, and honestly, I can’t imagine a better way to get actual feedback from actual players under actual play circumstances — the user experience researcher in me appreciates it greatly. And I have played some Early Access games to good effect, most notable of which Sunless Sea; I noted in my review of it that having access to those early-build memories made for an interesting review counterpoint to the current game. That said, I think Early Access just isn’t for me. I’m perfectly fine waiting a game to reach what the development team considers ‘completion’ — I know that’s an odd benchmark in this day and age of constant content upgrades, but listen, I can’t influence how my own brain works.

At any rate, Dead Cells! It’s out now! Let’s see if it’s been worth the wait.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Dead Cells, which was absolutely worth the wait.

Indie Shortieland: The Dark Room

Heya readers. I’ve had a bit of a busy week this week, what with me flying clear across the continental United States to meet some Dutch friends in Las Vegas and also chauffeur around a certain famous games messer upper for reasons that can best be described as ‘important’. I knew this was coming, and I’ve done my best to prepare for it, but now that Monday has landed I find my intended ‘full’ review isn’t quite in the place I’d like it to be.

Instead, I’m going to use this space to look at something completely different. I want to do a short flashback to a certain avant-garde game, an experiment in digital storytelling that took place before such experiments were commonplace and an interesting exploration in the affordances and limitations of a certain video medium.

Piqued your interest, has that? I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. No, it’s important, really. Close your eyes, lie down, and take a brief nap. Doesn’t have to be more than a minute.

Then AWAKE.

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

(Game source: Freely available online.)

After the break: If you actually do all this, remind me to be grateful for your trust in my storytelling.

Indie Wonderland: EXAPUNKS

I got into Zachtronics‘s latest release, EXAPUNKS, the same way I get into all Zachtronics games: Learning about it way after everyone else by seeing emails or Twitter messages about release dates and special editions, buying one of those special editions on the promise of cool manuals and physical goodies, and then promising myself that maybe this time I’ll actually see one of them through to conclusion. Poor return on investment for the third bit so far, but maybe this time! It could happen.

Now, last time I reviewed a Zachtronics game (Opus Magnum, which I reviewed here), the review turned into a sort of distributed reference block about which other Zachtronics games that one pulled from most and least. Which is fine, in a sense, they are all similar. But I realized after the fact that a review like that won’t be very valuable for someone who’s not already way into Zachtronics games: Saying ‘just read these review and play these games if you want to understand this one’ isn’t exactly accessible. So for EXAPUNKS, I’m going back to the normal ‘full’ treatment: Early-game impressions, options menus, the works. If you’ve got no idea what this game is like or what the deal is with this publisher, I should hopefully have you covered.

And if you are already a Zachtronics expert, no worries! I’m sure my subconscious will sneak in more than enough references to other games anyway.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium to high, depending on how well you read the screenshots.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: I try to explain EXAPUNKS in a way that doesn’t require knowledge of Shenzen I/O, and fail as early as this link tex- damnit.

Indie Wonderland: Mothergunship

Mothergunship. The word is evocative. What is it? Is it a mothership that’s also a gunship? That seems like the obvious choice, but what if it isn’t? What if it’s a mothership in the shape of a gun? Or a gunship that holds smaller gunships inside itself, like a sort of mother-gunship? Or maybe it’s a… I can’t think of a joke for ‘mothergun’. Or rather, I can, but I don’t want to tell it and you don’t want to read it.

At any rate, Mothergunship is also a new shooty bang game by Terrible Posture Games and Grip Digital. Maybe… maybe the only way to find out what a ‘mothergunship’ is is to play that game? Wouldn’t that be a strange world we lived in?

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: I envy you, all of you, as you got a chance to find out what a mothergunship is without actually having to fight one.

Indie Wonderland: Heaven Will Be Mine

I reviewed We Know The Devil (by Worst Girls Games) way back in the winter of 2016, when I lived halfway across the world and the world was only somewhat smoldering instead of outright on fire. I thought it was an excellent game, one that I thought about all the time and talked about a whole lot — significantly strengthening at least one friendship over it. So when the creators (one of whom I follow on Twitter) announced their next game, Heaven Will Be Mine, I reacted the exact same way I did to We Know The Devil: Studiously avoiding any and all mentions of it, but keeping a sharp eye for the eventual release date.

Turns out: That date is now.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Between knowing the Devil (presumably in Hell) and claiming Heaven, what more is there for these developers to claim? I figure that Limbo