My love of the under-sea is well-documented on this website (and some other ones). I can’t help it, I’m at Atlantean at heart. I’d live under water if I could. I have lived under water for most of my life, for an extremely generous and disappointing interpretation of the idea. Every game that opens up by telling me most of the action will take place sub-H2O has an automatic head start; I’m a simple man to please.
And if a game tells me it intends to fill that setting with tactical turn-based combat, persistent customizable soldiers, and randomly-generated worlds full of uncertainty and mystery and danger? If other sites bill it as ‘XCOM meets FTL, but under water’? It would be hard to laser-target a design document more directly to my interests.
HOF Studios is trying just this with Depth of Extinction. Let’s see if they manage.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)
(Game source: Publisher review key.)
After the break: You’ll know if Depth of Extinction is as good as I hope it’ll be because this will be the last review I’ll ever write.
Hey readers! Greeting from scenic Washington DC., home of bad politics and good musea. Fun bit of trivia: I entered the United States through Boston at the start of this year, and my two most major expeditions took me to Las Vegas and Washington DC. This means I’ve exclusively visited the sites of three consecutive first-person Fallout games… if you ignore my trip to upstate New York. Listen, don’t overthink things.
A full review is in the cards for next week, but this week I wanted to use this space to an interesting-looking Kickstarter project: Lore Finder, by Kitsune Games, previously known for MidBoss and Ultra Hat Dimension. I normally shy away from highlighting Kickstarter projects, but this one has three big pluses: I know about Kitsune Games and like their body of work (I intend to review MidBoss one of these days, one of those ‘better late than never’ things), Lore Finder has a cool elevator pitch and a gripping art style to boot, and most importantly of all, the Lore Finder Kickstarter page has a publicly-available demo, meaning I can actually tell you something about the game as it exists instead of just parroting marketing material.
So if you’re interested in learning what made Lore Finder tick for me…
Radical Fish Games‘ CrossCode first hit Steam Early Access in June 2015. I downloaded and played its demo version somewhere around that time (late 2015/early 2016, I think) and found it to be an interesting take on real-time top-down action RPGs, with a charming RPG Maker art style and a narrative setup that promised some interesting reading. It was also in very early access at the time, so I decided to keep the demo installed, and occasionally check up on its progress.
Then I moved house and changed computers, and immediately forgot its name. Yeah, I know, that’s probably the most me way things could go. I’d forgotten to ‘follow’ it on Steam, too, and since demos don’t leave a trace in your own games list… not that that would matter, unless I was willing to manually scroll through a thousand entries to find the one game I wanted. All hope seemed lost.
Then Rock Paper Shotgun came to the rescue — a chance tweet on my timeline reignited a trove of lost memories. And here we are!
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, medium-high.)
(Game source: Patreon funds.)
After the break: Has CrossCode been worth this continent-spanning, serendipity-filled wait? The answer is…
I’ve been tracking Wandersong, by ‘Greg’ Lobanov, ‘Em’ Halberstadt, and ‘Gord’, or A Shell In The Pit, in that casual way that I do: Infrequently and with no real plan, but with a strong resolution to play it once it actually came out — assuming I didn’t miss it entirely, due to the deluge of cool games that comes out every single day.
And hey, look at this! I didn’t miss it! A good third of my timeline was all Wandersong all the time in the week after it launched, last month, and that was enough impetus for me to buy it, install it, and occasionally look at the desktop icon, hoping to find some time to actually play.
And hey, look at this! Again! I did find some time to actually play it!
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium, high-ish if you read the secret comment. Mechanical, medium-high.)
(Game source: Patreon funds.)
After the break: And I found some time to write about Wandersong too! Will wonders never cease? Not if Wandersong is concerned.
Hey readers! No full Indie Wonderland this week, due to several reasons: I couldn’t stop myself from playing more Phantom Doctrine, because it’s fun and I wanted to see where the story ends; I had a bunch of nerd shit to do; I wanted to make time to visit a timed Winnie-the-Pooh exhibit at a local museum; and against all hope I found an option to say hi to one of my all-time favorite writers. What even are video games? I don’t even know.
Seriously though: I do have a review lined up next week, but I want to give that game a little more time before I start singing its praises. In the meantime, I’ll use this space to write out some thoughts about that most topical game that’s surely still on everyone’s minds: Pokémon GO. I recently got back into it after a lengthy (2-year-or-so) absence, and there have been some changes. Some good, some bad, and some that have been percolating in my brain after the first time I encountered them. I’m not actually going to review Pokémon GO here, so if you’re not familiar with it, you probably won’t get much out of this article — that’s fair, I hope to see you next week! But if you are familiar with Pokémon GO / play it yourself, there’s a nonzero chance you might enjoy the following piece:
Why the changes to Pokémon GO’s gym system have turned your own team into your worst enemy
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.
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!
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!
…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.
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.