2022-09-03: Itch.io Bundle for Racial Equality highlights (2)
Part two. Here it is. If you somehow ended up here without reading the first post, you can find it here.
Do you remember the disco minigame from Yakuza 0? El Tango de la Muerte is kind of like that, but with a fantastic electronically influenced tango soundtrack, unique photo collage visuals, and a classic melodramatic story of love and fraternity. The gameplay takes a bit of getting used to, but the game would rather give you a bad rating than fail you - even if you're bad at (or don't enjoy) rhythm games, this is something worth checking out.
Remnants is a short exploration game with a neat graphical style. The title screen suggests it's influenced by the ZX Spectrum, which I can kinda see, what with the game's effort to construct compelling art from
vibrant colour schemes in a limited resolution, but it's not really something that's reflected in the gameplay. You walk around and interact with stuff, getting a brief insight into this strange post-apocalyptic world, and that's about it. It's no Dizzy, and you can decide if that's a compliment or not.
To put it politely, visuals aren't Arlo's strongest suit. The gameplay also leaves a bit to be desired, with the tight Gameboy aspect ratio making it difficult to see enemies, obstacles, and instant death pits coming in time to react. But it doesn't really matter, because you should play it for the music. Whatever faults the game may have, every single track absolutely slaps, and that's a good enough reason for it to get a spot on this most prestigious of lists.
Even in Arcadia is a critique of capitalism with a tendency to wallow in relationship melodrama, which, to be blunt, is something I wouldn't usually jump to recommend. But, the concept for the game is a very cool one: characters walk around the game world on a loop, interacting and having conversations with each other in parallel, exposing you to a little bit of the overall narrative at a time, letting you build up knowledge of the world bit by bit. A social Outer Wilds, if you will. Unfortunately I got less out of the narrative than I hoped, in part because of the lack of a real resolution. The world simply cycles back to an earlier state after a certain point, and the same conversations are repeated again. Still, it's a cool experience for a loop or two, and the Worlds-like visuals give it a distinctive, uncanny feel.
I love games like this. Orison of Mercury is a sombre, atmospheric experience, one which manages to tell a compelling story mostly through implication, without using the overly abstract, allegorial storytelling some artsy games like to go for. The visuals are striking, the soundtrack tells a whole story all by itself, and the gameplay exists purely in service of the narrative. It's also a game made to be replayed, as the planetary map is shuffled around between each playthrough, and you're unlikely to see many of the more unique planets on your first go around. It's not a long game, but it leaves an impression.
As you might have figured out from the name, this is a set of interactive interviews with trans and gender non-conforming people in Japan. They discuss identity, activism, how society has been changing, and sometimes just life itself, with some minor interactivity and cute pixel art visuals to make it more than just a simple transcript. I am not trans, so I can't really comment on how well these interviews represent trans people either in Japan or any other part of the world, but I personally found them to be a fascinating - and often poignant - insight into a community I knew very little about before.
Back to something a bit more whimsical, Croissants is a game about being a robot on a pastry assembly line, where you snatch croissants off a conveyor belt and stick them into various machines to match the orders displayed on a screen. You're stuck in place, whipping your view back and forth trying to fulfil orders as quickly as possible, struggling against the (intentionally, I think?) sluggish controls, precise lever hitboxes, and constantly depleting time and hunger meters. The game has quite a bit of that janky, low budget, gameplay-driven indie charm, and it kinda reminded me of early roomscale VR games like Job Simulator. They're not particularly alike, but the vibes match imo.
I always had a soft spot for metafiction, probably because I had the misfortune to read Homestuck in the formative years of my life. I think there's something deeply compelling about analysing the relationship between creator, creation, and audience, and I'm always on the lookout for another Undertale or Detective Pony to blow my pseudointellectual socks off. Of course there are many games that break the fourth wall, and quite a few games that can reasonably be called metafiction, but a scarce few, in my opinion, meaningfully explore this relationship through gameplay or narrative. Am I going to justify this opinion? Absolutely not, both because it's kinda off topic and because coming up with convincing arguments makes my head hurt. Am I going to say MetaWare does this well? I don't know. But I enjoyed it, and if postmodernism taught me anything it's that I am the only objective source of truth, so it's only logical that you will enjoy it too.
Bold Blade feels like an old Flash game. Like one of those Toss the Turtle type incremental fares specifically, where the gameplay is kinda basic but it's supported by an upgrade system that lets you massively increase your power very quickly. You're a knight, you swing your preposterously big sword left and right with the arrow buttons, you go from stage to stage fighting monsters and collecting gold, and then you buy upgrades to make your sword bigger and swingier and so on. It massaged the numbers-go-up part of my brain while still making me feel like my own abilities somewhat contributed to my success, which I really enjoyed. The speed of progression is also fast as fuck - you keep all the gold you collect in a level if you die, letting you throw yourself at the same level over and over getting stronger each time, until finally you prevail. It's all very addictive.
Earlier we had a game that kinda looked ZX Spectrumesque, now we've got a full on ZX Spectrum throwback. Captain MaCaw is basically a spiritual sequel to Dizzy with some much needed quality of life improvements, such as infinite lives and (very scarce) fast travel points. As with Dizzy, you'll be doing occasionally off-the-wall and out-of-the-box puzzling by ferrying items around from one place to the other and dodging hazards of questionable lethality, all while managing your microscopic three-item inventory limit. Unfortunately I never beat the game, as I got softlocked when an item I needed to progress disappeared into thin air. Probably won't happen to you, though. Probably.
The House On Holland Hill is based on a very interesting concept that I'd love to see expanded into a bigger game. In short, you're a pizza delivery guy, and the narrative is revealed to you as you make repeat deliveries to one specific client over a stretch of their life, with occasional choices to be either nosy and sociable, or to keep it strictly professional and leave as soon as possible. The game's short so there's ultimately not a huge amount of depth to it, but it's a cool idea well executed. Also the skyboxes are fuckin gorgeous, so make sure to pay some attention to them.
"Hall of Shame" might be the wrong phrase because this is technically a tentative recommendation (I don't include stuff I don't like), but Golem Creation Kit really pissed me off. The art is (mostly) great, the narrative is compelling, the prose is great, everything about the game is good except
the actual gameplay. It involves collecting the right types of ingredients from three maps based on the weaknesses of the people raiding your tower on a given day, and it's boring and half trial and error and I don't like it, but whatever, I put up with it because I wanted to see how the plot ended. As it turns out, beating the game results in an anticlimactic non-ending that raises more questions and answers none. Want to see an actual ending? Play the game again in New Game+, which bravely innovates by basically just being a glorified hard mode where you don't keep any upgrades and where the dialogue barely changes until the very final stretch. Nuh-uh. Fuck that. I'm watching this shit on youtube.
Alright. That's it. Remember, if you like any of the games you play in these bundles, do the devs a solid and buy another copy on Itch or Steam or wherever. Indie devs earn basically fuck all unless they get lucky on youtube or twitch, or get paid for Epic exclusivity or something. What are you doing with the money anyway? Saving up for a mortgage or something? Like a fucking idiot? Pathetic. Never show your face here again.