Author Archives: Jarenth

Indie Wonderland: Kingdoms and Castles

Hey, you know what’d be nice? At the end of this, the Hell Year? To look at a video game that’s explicitly not about violence and destruction, but about development and creation. Too many games have a vocabulary of only violent verbs: kill this, destroy that, steal such, hurt so. And there’s room for those, to be sure, but sometimes it feels like they’re all there is room for. Or maybe they’re just what I reach for when I don’t feel like being critical, it’s entirely possible this is me. Either way, how about a more pleasant game for once?

Now, I can’t prove I mumbled this to myself mere minutes before the Steam promotion email for Lion Shield‘s Kingdoms and Castles hit my inbox. But doesn’t that sound like great serendipity either way? Just the fact that this game was apparently on my Steam wishlist… I don’t even remember adding it there. Plus, Lion Shield’s mission statement is explicitly “Lion Shield seeks to make games with three core values: players’ creative expression, strategic decisions, and beauty.

If you add those two together, this might be a Christmas Period Miracle.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: But will Kingdoms and Castles be a miracle for my violence-plagued soul, or will it ‘miraculously’ cure me of all desire for city-building games? ONly one way to find out!

‘Indie Wonderland’: The ADOM Review That Didn’t Materialize

Along with Rogue and Nethack, Thomas Biskup‘s Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM from here on out) is often billed as one of the great fantasy adventure games of the ASCII era. It’s a sprawling epic of a game, dozens of races and classes and possibilities and a hundred years of implied backstory set in the giant world map of the Drakalor Chain. It’s the first and so far only one of those big three games that I’ve actually played, and I have good (if time-dulled) memories of sitting side-by-side with a friend, playing our respective characters and dying our respective deaths and slowly figuring out how all this stuff works. And how we could subvert the whole no-save thing with clever use of hand-written batch files. You know who you are, friend who still reads this work; say hi in the comments!

I recently learned of, and got a review key for, the Steam version of ADOM. I interpreted what I saw and read as an attempted remaster, which got me interested: For all its perks, ADOM is very inaccessible, in the way that ASII games from that era usually are. A remastered ADOM, made visually accessible and incorporating contemporary game design wisdom, has the potential to be an incredible thing. I happily entered the key, downloaded the game, booted it up, and rolled my first Grey Elf Elementalist, figuring everything would be alright forever.

I’ll give you a moment to take in the title of this review real quick.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, basically nothing. Mechanical, basically inscrutable.)

(Game source: Review key.)

After the break: The reasons three why this is a list of reasons three, instead of a proper review.

Let's jump some JUMPS

Indie Wonderland: Omegaland

Sometimes you have to take a chance on a game you know nothing about. Or so I tell myself; the drive to only ever play the RPG adventures and metroidvanias and interesting experimental games (and visual novels) that I know I’ll enjoy (or loathe deeply) is ever-present. But without boundary pushing, how could I expect any sort of critical growth? Stagnation is death when it comes to writing.

Anyway, this unexpectedly wordy paragraph only serves to explain why I picked up Jonas Kyratzes‘s Omegaland. It looks for all the world like baby’s first platforming game, which isn’t generally a genre I’m wild about. But I know looks can be deceiving in projects like this; I have played Frog Fractions. So maybe there’s more to this game than meets the eye? The Steam page‘s “be prepared for few surprises along the way” (sic) does suggest that…

Then again, it might not be. Should I be judging this book by its cover? Only one way to find out.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Listen, I’m really hoping to be the first to discover the next Frog Fractions, okay. But not in like a Frog Fractions 2 kind of way, like – listen, it doesn’t matter, here’s Omegaland.

Indie Wonderland: Songbringer

I first heard of Wizard Fu Games‘s Songbringer in that most me way of hearing about new games: An online acquaintance hyped it on Twitter. I otherwise have very little idea what to expect from Songbringer. It bills itself as a ‘procedural action RPG’, which, what exactly does that mean? What do those words in that order tell us about what this game is? Nothing, that’s what. Which means there’s only one way I’m going to find out…

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: By playing Songbringer, that’s what I meant. That’s how I’m going to find out. No, Wikipedia is not ‘just as good a solution’.

Indie Delayland

Hey readers.

So, my job ended last week. Temporary contract, planned end, I knew it was coming. I already have a new job lined up for January 2018 (with some 95% certainty), meaning I’ll be home free and on unemployment benefits for the next two months. So far, so ‘good’: You’d probably expect this gives me plenty of time to review a whole bunch of games.

Complication, though: My job ended halfway into last week. Between wrapping that up, preparing the new job, and a general sense of routine-busting panic (I am not a person who deals with change well), I haven’t had a lot of time to think about game reviews. I’m alright now, so the rest of November and most of December should go well. Just wanted to let you know that today isn’t going anywhere. Thanks for understanding.

As for late December… Well, we’ll get to that when we get to that. Again, I appreciate your patience and understanding, and I’ll try my best to get some good reviews going for these closing months of 2017. Twenty serpentine, indeed.

Hah, 'Traveler'. That's gonna be real funny in a month or two.

Allegations that most of my gameplay time this week went into the gun-shooting adventures of a space-age robot wizard remain, as always, scurrilously unfounded.

Indie Shortieland: Opus Magnum

Sharp-eyed inspectors of my Twitter timeline the last two weeks may have guessed the review that would show up this week. Like many of my friends, peers, and distant relations, I fell hard for Opus Magnum, Zachtronics‘ latest… opus, I guess, in their preferred systems optimization genre. It took an international board games convention and a glut of incredible game releases to knock me out of an Opus Magnum fugue, and even now, I’m thinking about going back. I didn’t even get that far into the story. And I could probably optimize that one puzzle a little better. Maybe by…

So it might surprise you that, as the headline suggests, this is going to be a relatively short review. Turns out I just don’t have that much to say about Opus Magnum! In fact, I could do the whole review in two lines: “If you liked the other Zachtronics games, get this one too. And if you’ve never played any, but you were thinking about checking the genre out, start with this one.”

Alright, let’s call this my time-optimized review. Check that off the list. For my next solution attempt, I’ll try to write one that actually hits all the relevant content marks…

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, none. Mechanical, some degree, but nothing serious.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Content-Complete Solution (Still Pretty Short) [v1.3]

Indie Wonderland: Holy Potatoes! What The Hell!?!

Hey readers. November’s fast approaching; Long-time readers will know this as the time I generally indulge in the theme of visual novels and dating sims. However, following reader feedback at the end of the last excursion, I’ve decided to tweak the formula a bit this year. By not indulging in the formula at all. November 2017’s gonna be Just Normal Indie Wonderland Reviews month, or: There Are So Many Good Games I Haven’t Gotten Around To Reviewing Yet, You Guys Have No Idea.

As some contrition to those who like to see me suffer in a serialized manner, I offer this: Earlier this month, I was mailed by a PR representative of Daylight Studios with an unprompted review key for their latest work, Holy Potatoes! What The Hell!?!. Yeah, it’s this series again, of earlier weapon shop and space adventure fame. I was mailed because the studio thought that my earlier experience with pop culture potato games would make this a good fit for my writing; And if you think that dramatic arc sounds similar to the last time they mailed me, that’s because it is.

Still. I’m not one to turn down well-intentioned potato gifts.

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

(Game source: Developer Steam key.)

After the break: I’d make a month out of games like Holy Potatoes! What The Hell!?!, but alas, I already reviewed the other two earlier.

Indie Shortieland: SiNKR

Heya readers. Shorter Indie Wonderland this week, for reasons not of poor planning but of content. I was emailed by game designer Robert Wahler, who expressed an interest in seeing me review their latest work, the abstract puzzle game SiNKR. And, you know me, hilariously vulnerable to peer pressure and all that. Plus, SiNKR seemed like it’d appeal to me. I like puzzle games for two reasons: One, I’m good them, which makes me feel clever and competent. Yes, that’s totally a valid reason. And two, puzzle games tend to have a clearly defined end point, making it easy to judge how far off the end I am and how much of the game I’ve seen so far. I wouldn’t recommend that for every game, but as far as planning goes, ‘I can see I have X puzzles left until the end’ is much easier to deal with than ‘I think I might be at the final boss, maybe, unless this is a fake-out ending’.

I beat all of SiNKR‘s (current) 60 puzzles in about an hour and a half. That could either mean it’s too short and easy, which would be bad, or that it’s engaging enough to push through a challenging level of difficulty, which would be good. But which option is the correct one? Well…

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, none. Mechanical, high-ish.)

(Game source: Developer Steam key.)

After the break: I know some of you are hoping I’ll say I fell in love with the game. You’ve got your obvious jokes at the ready. I can just feel it.

Should have called this game 'Explosive Decompression Adventures'.

Indie Wonderland: Heat Signature

Suspicious DevelopmentsHeat Signature serves as an incredible example case study into the weird relationship I have with traditional game news. I was entirely on-board when Tom Francis first announced he was working on a new space game, pretty much solely on the strength of Gunpoint, and I followed the associated Twitter account immediately. And then I… never looked into it? In any way? I knew it was in progress, and I had a vague idea of the graphical layout and the problems involved with mapping an enormous procedural (outer) space. But beyond that, I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about Heat Signature right now. I’ve heard from smatterings of other reviews that it involves space ships? And boarding? And plans, and backup plans, and backup-backup plans, and plans marked ‘under no circumstances enact this’? Which you will enact anyway?

I have the amazing ability to be feature-blind to hyped indie games even if I’ve taken explicit steps to stay up-to-date with it. I know, I know, it’s like a superpower. Let’s hope it pays off in this case.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Heat Signature. Will managing heat levels of space ships be a critical gameplay factor? I’m genuinely asking because I have no idea.

Indie Wonderland: A Robot Named Fight

Ah! My readers, my children. Come around, come around, it’s been a long time, I know, I know. But as the hour grows late and the fire grows dim, I find I have it in me to tell you on more story. A story about a robot… named fight.

What’s that you say? “Jarenth, ‘A Robot Named Fight is a silly name for a story or a video game, it doesn’t make any sense”? Well, first of all, I can tell nobody ever taught you any manners. It’s terrible rude to interrupt a storyteller, is what it is. Second, you’ll have to take that up with Matt Bitner, from Matt Bitner Games. They named the robot Fight, not I. And third… Did you want to hear my story, or not?

That’s what I thought. Now, where was I? Ah, yes: A Robot Named Fight. I remember it well, readers, children. It’s like I played it only last week…

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, high-ish. Mechanical, medium or high, depending on your reading pattern.)

(Game source: Developer Steam key.)

After the break: I’ll admit I didn’t really know what to make of the title either. Let’s hope it makes more sense before the review runs out, or else…