Category Archives: Indie Wonderland

Indie Shortieland: The Novelist

Take a moment to imagine: What’s the most self-indulgent thing I could possibly do on this website? Apart from letting it all burn down, or using the site’s database as my personal torrented game storage. The best answer I came up with is: Write about a video game about writing. It’s the perfect overlap of the real and the imagined! No, wait, I actually have an even better one: Imagine if I wrote about a video that was about a middle-aged white man struggling to write! His most important work!. Oh god, can you imagine, it’s like I’d be staring into a mirror. I can’t say for sure that the whole piece would be introspective navel-gazing, but one can only imagine.

Anyway, in unrelated news, I played Orthogonal GamesThe Novelist this week. ‘A game about life, family, and the choices we make’. And also pointedly about a struggling middle-aged white dude writer. You’ll understand why I figured I should keep this review short. Unless you want to hear all about my own troubled upbringing, possibly in tortured metaphor form.

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

(Game source: Gift from a friend.)

After the break: It all started when I was declared to be a ‘gifted child’…

Indie Wonderland: Celeste

Eagled-eyed viewers may have noticed that I referenced ‘looking for a mountain to climb’ last week as a metaphor for a challenging game that inspires you to keep trying. For once in my writing career, that actually wasn’t a random segue: I’d started playing Celeste, the mountain-climbing themed challenge platformer by Matt Thorson and Noel Berry. I hadn’t seem much of Celeste in the days following launch, except that a) it was getting rave reviews from outlets I generally care about, and b) it looked in some particular artistic ways to be entirely my jam. Hence, here we are. If you subscribe to the Indie Wonderland world-fiction that I write these reviews as I play, this review actually originates from a week and a half ago. Welcome from Friday January 25th, everyone. I can’t wait to see the Patriots win.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium — pretty much nothing major. Mechanical, somewhat high, though plenty surprises are left.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

You could be wondering at this point why an agoraphobic like me would ever be drawn to a mountain-climbing game. But maybe, it turns out that some mountains are just worth climbing.

Indie Wonderland: The Shrouded Isle

In the closing weeks of 2017, which at time of writing are about fourteen years ago, I made the mistake of not remembering the name of Kitfox GamesThe Shrouded Isle. I found it by Googling the phrase ‘that green game about sacrificing cultists’, and then made the mistake of tweeting about it.

Which Kitfox Games then saw.

That I was going to review The Shrouded Isle to make up for this terrible oversight was obviously a given. The only question remains: Am I going to repair my reputation by praising in gameplay what I couldn’t remember in the name? Or am I going to pile-drive my remaining Kitfox Games Reputation straight into the depths of the earth?

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

(Game source: Bought it myself, for penitence reasons.)

After the break: The Shrouded Isle, which I still don’t really know anything about. Sacrifices feature, apparently.

There's no way from here but... *some* direction.

Indie Wonderland: Glittermitten Grove

I’m not afraid to jump back in time sometimes. Sure, Mostly Tigerproof‘s Glittermitten Grove came out veritable ages ago, in the heady closing days of the Horror Year 2016. And sure, the Hell Year 2017 has had so many incredible and hotly-anticipated game releases that I’d run out of my word count trying to list them all. But listen: Sometimes you just have to play a weird-looking game about building fairy villages.

Yes, that’s definitely the reason I’m doing this game. Stop acting so suspicious.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, unclear. Mechanical, definitely something.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Glittermitten Grove. As if it is so out of character for me to play strange, brightly-coloured games about nonsense. Have you seen my Sakura reviews?

Indie Wonderland: The Sexy Brutale

Tequila WorksThe Sexy Brutale has received tons of critical praise since its release in April of this year. I’ve watched and read a small number of non-spoiler reviews, all of which impressed on me how good this game supposedly is and that I should play it as soon as possible right away. It’s been on my games-I-intend-to-play-and-review list for a while now. I’ve owned it since June. I just didn’t get around to it.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m trying to fix my mistakes, okay.

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

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: The Sexy Brutale. Did I honestly forget to play this game for months, or am I doing a clever meta-bit that relates to the game’s overall… No, no, I just actually forgot.

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 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]