Category Archives: Indie Wonderland

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…

Indie Wonderland: Necrosphere

If you had me guess from the title alone what sort of game Necrosphere, my first shot would be — and I admit there’s some degree of wishful thinking in this — a ball sports-type game played exclusively by the undead. I know I can already get something like that in Bloodbowl, but listen: I just want to see teams of shuffling try to do fancy football tricks. ‘Necrosphere‘ sounds much more dignified than ‘Deadball‘.

My second guess would be ‘probably some sort of 2D indie platformer’, because that’s just a safe bet in this day and age and gaming environment. Which means I’m up for the silver medal in ‘reading Cat Nigiri‘s mind, so. That’s still pretty good.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, almost none. Mechanical, fairly high.)

(Game source: Developer review key)

Necrosphere, or: It’s More Evocative A Title Than ‘Ghostjump’, But Technically Less Accurate.

Indie Wonderland: Pixel Shopkeeper

Has there been any game about RPG shopkeeping since 2007 that landed quite as well as Recettear? I’m wondering. I know more games do exist in that particular hyper-specific niche: I remember playing Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! (review here), and I’m waiting for Moonlighter with pretty baited breath. But has anything so far made a similar splash?

I find myself thinking these things as I watch the Steam download bar for Pixel Prototype‘s Pixel Shopkeeper, the genre of which I think you can probably intuit now. I want another RPG shopkeeping game to make the same splash as Recettear, because Recettear ruled. Maybe Pixel Shopkeeper will be the one?

Only one way to find out.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Pixel Shopkeeper. Not a game about running a pixel shop, but… Actually, that’s pretty valid too. Take it however you want, I guess.

Indie Shortieland: Tacoma

The gaming buzz on my social media timelines the past week or so has been pretty much all Tacoma. And with obvious reason: It’s the latest opus of Fullbright, they of the superlative Gone Home. As part of my general non-disclosure agreement with any and all games news I haven’t read much about Tacoma, but I have learned a few things: That it features gameplay much in the vein of Gone Home, that it has a character either called or named after Odin, that it’s set in space, and that people say it takes about three hours to complete, start-to-finish. Obviously, the latter seems like silly exaggeration, and after playing it for myself this weekend, I can confirm that that number is nowhere near accurate.

I completed it in two and a half hours.

It should be obvious that I can’t really use my regular review pattern with a game like Tacoma. Not only is it primarily narrative-driven, which is always a dicey prospect, but if I did my usual ‘I’m playing through the first half hour or so and what is this’ shtick, that’d essentially spoil outright almost a sixth of the game. I do want to talk about what made Tacoma work for me as it did, though. So you all get a Shortieland. I know you were probably clamoring for another 7000-word epic after last week, but I hope we can all agree that it’s for the best I leave some of this game intact.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself

After the break: Tacoma, or What In The Name Of Space Happened Here.

Indie Wonderland: Pyre

I’m guessing approximately zero of you are surprised I’ve been looking forward to Pyre. In case you are, let me give you some crucial backstory: Pyre is made by Supergiant Games.

That’s it. That’s the backstory. Supergiant Games has made two games before Pyre, and both Bastion and Transistor (which I reviewed here) were great fun, and masterclass studies of the use of innovative design techniques. I loved both games and still rate them very highly; that I was going to try and dive into Pyre as soon as possible was basically a foregone conclusion. In fact, I’ve gone even further than my usual ‘try to go in as blind as possible’ approach: I’ve pursued an active campaign of non-information against Pyre. All I know so far is that it’s… an RPG? Or a sports game? Or both?

Or maybe neither? I’ve been really thorough about not knowing anything.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Pyre, I game I’ve been avoiding news of so studiously I might almost have missed that it exists.

Indie Wonderland: Golem Creation Kit

We interrupt this regularly scheduled treatise on the games on my to-play list to bring you a sudden and unexpected look at Illuminated GamesGolem Creation Kit, a game that I just sort of spotted on the Steam front page one day. The preview materials show all the aesthetic and graphical appeal of a Flash-based hidden object game, and I’m 90% sure the title is primarily a play on Fallout‘s GECK. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what made me look at this game and immediately decide ‘yes, this is what I want to review next week’.

But all the same, that’s totally what happened.

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

(Game source: Impulse-bought it myself.)

After the break: Golem Creation Kit. Could it just be that I’m really into the idea of shaping inert materials into rad magical beings? Because if that’s the case, I have to wonder why I didn’t go into robotics instead of human-technology interaction.

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.