Author Archives: Jarenth

Indie Wonderland: Unexplored

In this week’s continuation of the Desktop Text File Games, I have my eye on Ludomotion‘s Unexplored. A game that, I’ll be honest, I initially didn’t pay too much attention to. Can you blame me, in the endless barrage of quality games that is 2017? But then by chance I saw this article by Jack de Quidt. And that changed things, because…

Well, here’s the thing: I haven’t actually read the article yet. I want to, because Jack is a cool person and a good writer. But at this point in time I did already have Unexplored tagged as ‘possibly an Indie Wonderland game’. And you know what that means: Total media blackout until I can play it as blind as possible, to form my own opinion.

And thus, on the list it went. And here we are. I really hope that article is worth the wait.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Also, I hope that Unexplored is good, but that should go without saying. I hope all games always are good.

Indie Wonderland: Salt and Sanctuary

I have a tumultuous relationship with the Dark Souls games. No, not that kind of tumultuous. Well, also that, but I mostly mean that I’ve never really played any of them for too long alone. I tried getting into Dark Souls (1) for an hour or so before quitting in bored frustration, only returning later with a revolving cadre of at least two accompanying friends at any time. Dark Souls 2 I didn’t even attempt solo, playing as far as I did — not to the end — strictly as a co-op adventure. And Dark Souls 3… I probably played the farthest solo of any of the three, determined as I was at the time to give it a shot. The last thing I remember was finally getting into some swampy castle past the giant crabs, only to get one-hit-killed by a Black Knight. I told myself I’d be back soon. That’s… been a while.

It’s for this reason that games that (unironically) advertise themselves as ‘like Dark Souls‘ have a special place in my heart. I do appreciate a lot of what Dark Souls does, from a design and mechanical perspective, even if it never really gelled with me the way it has with others. Every game that tries to emulate and improve on those lessons seems to me like another chance: One more shot to try and experience that magic in a setting that isn’t already awash with bad ludic smell memories. Ska StudiosSalt and Sanctuary seems like it might be a game like that. Maybe this‘ll be the one that grabs me? Or maybe I’ll bounce off this game much like I bounced off its famous progenitors.

That probably wouldn’t make for a very interesting review, so I guess for your reading sake and mine I’m hoping it’ll be the first one.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Either an interesting and in-depth Salt and Sanctuary review, or nothing but the words “Nope, that wasn’t it either”.

Indie Wonderland: TumbleSeed

It’s as true for gaming reviews as it is true for any field of critical analysis that you can’t engage in the activity for almost seven years and counting (give or take) without starting to think in patterns. Very little is ever as unique or as groundbreaking as it’d like you to believe, and it becomes both a useful shorthand and a method of thinking to categorize and compare games on similarities to past design. Oh, this game uses shooting mechanics based on Doom, but with a dash of Shadow Warrior. That game has a visual palette reminiscent of Limbo. Such-and-so game has a moral choice system that’s less Kotor and more Mass Effect. This game is like this, that game is like that; we all do it. It’s rare enough to find games that buck similarity expectations on any given area, let alone several.

And yet, it’s exactly that which drew me to TumbleSeed (by ‘Benedict Fritz, Greg Wohlwend, Joel Corelitz, David Laskey, and Jenna Blazevich’). Far as I can tell, in this game you play as a brightly-coloured… plant seed? With eyes? That rolls up a mountain, for various reasons, which involves dodging giant holes and fighting banana snakes and spiders with back-mounted turrets? And… you don’t move the seed directly, but instead, you move up some sort of plank from the bottom of the screen? And the seed balances and rolls on it?

Listen: I’m not saying TumbleSeed has no inspirations. The website itself claims that TumbleSeed is based on “the forgotten arcade classic Ice Cold Beer“. What I’m saying is that I don’t see any. TumbleSeed might be the first game in 2017 that I genuinely don’t have a frame of reference for. Might being the operative word: Could be that long-forgotten memories click into place once I start playing. My memory’s weird like that, it wouldn’t be the first time. I think.

But either way, wouldn’t that make for an interesting review?

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, not really a factor. Mechanical, medium-high-ish.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: TumbleSeed. I’m still a little confused about the whole rolling uphill scenario. What are the odds that’ll be explained in the first five minutes?

Indie Shortieland: OneShot

One particularly neat aspect of running a small video games website and indie game review column essentially as a hobby is that I get a lot of opportunities to chase down and play that catch my eye for silly reasons (and then write them off as Patreon business expenses). This was the case with Little Cat Feet‘s OneShot, where I was drawn in the esoteric-sounding Steam blurb:

OneShot is a surreal top down Puzzle/Adventure game with unique gameplay capabilities. You are to guide a child through a mysterious world on a mission to restore its long-dead sun. The world knows you exist.

And just like that, onto my list of To-Play Text Files it went. Including, just maybe, a little *sneak peek* for the coming weeks?

Conversely, one aspect that people rarely tell you about is when you sit down with a game, pour two or three hours into it, and only then realize, quietly, “I can’t actually review this game“.

I mean, obviously I can write about OneShot. I’m doing so right now, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this. But… Regular readers will know I have a reviewing style that could be described as ‘exhaustive’. I’m a scientist by trade, after all, and what do scientists do when faced with something new and unknown? We dissect. We prod and poke and take things apart as far as possible, then describe the individual pieces, as a process of building up to describing the larger whole. Yes, even in the social sciences. Especially in the social sciences.

Some games can withstand this sort of clinical analysis with their gameplay experience intact. Other games can’t. OneShot is such a game. It’s a really interesting game, and I really want to talk about it in more detail. But if I just tell you all the cool things that happen, there’s a good chance that will come at cost of spoiling those cool things for you.

Hence, a Shortieland. I’m still gonna talk about OneShot, because like I said, it’s really interesting. I’ll just… try my best to hint at the specific things that make it cool. So if you’ve ever wanted to see me very obviously dance around an issue for a little under two thousand words, you’re in luck, I guess.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, as low as I can get it. Mechanical, as limited as I know how to convey.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: I’m only gonna get one shot at getting this review right.

Indie Wonderland: Splinter Zone

Have you ever heard of a gateway to the Splinter Zone? I hadn’t. The only reason I even know about (primarily) Eric Merz‘s opus is because some well-wishing soul retweeted a call to review action onto my Twitter timeline. Which is perfect, honestly. I’ve reviewed mostly higher-profile stuff the last few weeks, which is fine, but it might be nice to go back to my original roots and really dip into the indie. Look at a game that’s happy with even my C-tier level of extra exposure. As long as the final verdict isn’t ‘this game made me want to claw out my own eyes’, it’s a real win-win situation.

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

(Game source: Developer review key.)

After the break: My eyes are still intact. Is that good news for Splinter Zone? Or does that mean it just didn’t try hard enough?

Indie Wonderland: Scanner Sombre

I’ve been eyeballing Scanner Sombre for a handful of weeks now, ever since a random Rock Paper Shotgun news announcement that I since haven’t managed to find again. The theme of exploring dark underground caves through the mechanism of rainbow lights appeals to me, what can I say. I’m a sucker for some solitude. Plus, Scanner Sombre is developed by Introversion Software, the people behind such big names as Prison Architect, Darwinia, and a personally formative title of mine, Uplink. They’ve got a history of games that I find neat or at the very least interesting, and they’re applying this to a theme that I can see myself literally and figuratively get lost in for a while; I don’t want to say that Scanner Sombre was made specifically so I’d review it, but the numbers don’t lie.

Though it is interesting to note that for the longest time I mentally referred to this game as Scanner Sombra; maybe my subconscious is telling me that as much as I think I’ll enjoy a solitary cave dive, I might enjoy it even more with a cast of diverse and colourful fightin’ dads.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Scanner Sombre, which I hope doesn’t actually end up making me somber. But hey, only one way to find out.

Indie Shortieland: Rakuen

I want to tell you about Rakuen.

I started following Laura Shihigara on Twitter after her phenomenal contribution to To The Moon, which to this day is still the only piece of video game music I love so much that I have a physical representation of it in my home. Given how much I dug To The Moon in general, you won’t be surprised that I was interested in her involvement in/spearheading of Rakuen, a game that from the little news I elected to follow of it seemed very much to be what I promise I’ll never call it again, a To The Moon-like. Same concept, but different context, setting, characters, and way the player inevitably gets their heart broken, that’s what I figured. I was particularly drawn to the recurring visual of the boy in the origami hat, since that’s one of the few origami pieces I can sort-of do myself, and the title, Rakuen. If you’d put me on the spot, I’d guess that it’s Japanese for either peaceful or paradise; I know this, of course, because I phonetically memorized the lyrics to the opening song of the Kirby anime.

Bringing all of the above together…

Rakuen came out on Steam a little over two weeks ago. I waffled on picking it up for review purposes at first, figuring that I didn’t know how much there’d be to talk about. But I eventually decided ‘you know what, I’ll just play it, it’s bound to be cool, and I’ll see if I get any writing out of it afterwards. So I bought Rakuen, and started playing it, and eventually completed the whole story.

All of this happened yesterday.

Regular readers might remember that I sometimes play fast and loose with the description of my playtimes and -dates, especially if it suits the review story. “I just beat the final boss,” I’ll say at the start of the second page, in actuality having beaten the boss three days ago. I get it, this is my narrative style, I dug this hole for myself. Which is why it’s important for me to reiterate that all of this happened yesterday. I installed Rakuen, and started playing Rakuen, and finished playing Rakuen, all on Sunday March 28th 2017. Yesterday, from the perspective of when this article goes up. Which means that Rakuen gets the unexpected honour of having my fastest-ever review turnaround time: Since I played well into midnight to close out the story, I’ve gone from final play session to written review in less than 24 hours.

And here I was wondering I wasn’t gonna have anything to say.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Why I think Rakuen deserves some rapid review throughput.

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!