Tag Archives: Indie Wonderland

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!

Indie Shortieland: Specter of Torment

So, here’s the thing. The game I want to talk about this week isn’t so much a full game as it is long-awaited DLC. I’m talking (of course) about Specter of Torment, second in a line of three DLC expansions for Yacht Club GamesShovel Knight. There’s a limited audience of interest for this sort of thing: Either you already own Shovel Knight and by extension Specter of Torment and you don’t need any purchase advice, or you don’t own slash haven’t played Shovel Knight yet, in which case a Specter of Torment review is probably of limited value. For this reason, I’m keeping this review a little shorter than usual; it’s definitely only this reason, and nothing to do with the fact that I hecked up my screenshot key bindings during play. I’m sure you guys would be riveted by a series of nigh-identical pictures of me swapping through items, but alas. Better luck next time.

for real, though: Specter of Torment is still worth talking about, if for no other reason than to help you decide if you should actually spend time playing it. 2017 is proving itself to be a ridiculous treasure trove of great games; I can count up to half a dozen amazing releases I haven’t been able to give the time they deserve yet, and the number’s only that low because I don’t own all consoles yet. I’m in the stage of my life where free time has supplanted money as the prime limiting factor for which games I can play, which means I have to ask myself the same question on every new release I get my hands on: Is this actually worth investing some of my precious time of life?

Hence, Specter of Torment.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself, a long long time ago..)

After the break: I hope you all appreciate the narrative irony of me prefacing a game about the eternal looming specter of death with a rant about the ethereal wistfulness of time.

Indie Wonderland: Epistory — Typing Chronicles

Serious question to all y’all: How do you folks keep track of interesting games? With 2017 being some sort of Good Games Singularity, it feels like a necessary luxury to keep track of games you want to at some point, but just not right now. I used to have a Steam Wishlist for that sort of thing, but the combination of a terrible user interface and my own ever-expanding interests means that that option has been on a slow Akira reenactment ever since 2014. I sometimes keep Steam store tabs open in Google Chrome, but that’s sort of crumbling under the same problem: I currently have 125 tabs open over six different windows, and none of them are tabs I feel I can ever close. So, that leaves me… what? Calendar reminders? Post-its? Writing on my whiteboard?

I’ll tell you what apparently does work. I have two monitors, with the right one serving as my ‘main desktop’; as you’d probably imagine, that place is a sprawling wasteland of a hundred icons. But the left desktop is still relatively pristine. So I’ve taken to a measure so stupid that I can’t believe I ever thought it would work: Writing down game names as file names for empty text files, and then dropping those onto the desktop.

No, seriously. This is not a goof.

Right now I’m getting ready to play Fishing CactusEpistory – Typing Chronicles, which I just bought and downloaded after seeing my desktop reminder. I hate that this goddamn system apparently works (for now), but I’ll take what I can get.

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

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Epistory, a game that so far I’ve studiously avoided telling you anything about. What even is this game? Why did it warrant my incredibly careful reminder?