2022-09-18: Stuff I Played Recently
When I'm not playing indie games I found in itch bundles, I'm playing through indie games I found on Steam. Here are some I think you should play too.
Nominally a sequel to Anodyne (featured in the first itch bundle highlights post
), you can play this without ever touching the first game and still understand basically everything except for some callbacks and secrets. The game is split between 2D puzzle adventure segments - which play a lot like the first game - and 3D platforming, which is surprisingly tight considering it's the developers' first attempt. The game is permissive with its platforming, introducing a collectible partway through the game which actively encourages you to break the game boundaries and explore areas which are clearly not intended to be part of the "main" game. It feels like the developers celebrate the essence of 3D games in a way that very few do, which is reflected in this interesting bit of commentary:
[... this area] is both an area that acts as gateway into the Geof's Village area, as well as a structure you can climb around and explore. We call this the 'delight of the 3D model', in how simply a simple structure can also become something one may explore.
This idea of giving you the freedom to explore the 3D space around you as much as possible is quite evident throughout the game, and would be ramped up even more in Analgesic's next (fully 3D) game, Sephonie.
The game is never particularly challenging, but I don't feel it needs or wants to be. The game's strengths are in its atmosphere, its music, its soundscapes, its narrative, and its cheerful disregard for the fourth wall. The vibes
are top notch, essentially, discomforting yet comfortable at the same time, as useless and oxymoronic as that may sound. The game also continues Analgesic's tradition of having the dialogue be just a bit too sappy and heartfelt at times, but I feel like I have to say something negative so you don't get the impression that this is some highly ineffective astroturf. What can I say? It's a good game, go buy it.
Much of what I said about Anodyne 2 also applies to Sephonie. However, it's entirely 3D and introduces additional movement mechanics (wall running, air dashing, sprinting), it has a colour matching minigame that's satisfying but also quite easy, and it tells a story a lot more grounded in our regular human world than Anodyne 2. Brace yourself for a lot of feelings jams about relationships, immigrant identity, heritage, loss, and other assorted personal issues, all contextualised in quite a satisfying way. I won't spoil too much, just keep in mind that the game wears its heart on its sleeve and makes little effort to obscure its social commentary. Just close your eyes during the cutscenes if that annoys you. Also, as alluded to earlier, the navigation in the game is wonderful. It lets you pull off some truly janky, exploit-tier shenanigans, and will reward you with collectibles, minigames, and flavour text almost every time you do some out of the box platforming. It's a very satisfying game to explore.
It's hard to talk about Zelle without spoiling some of the experience, but, in short, it's a surreal and atmospheric narrative game (as most of my recommendations are) which tackles some heavy religious themes, alternating between grid-based point and click gameplay, RPG Maker style exploration, and a combat minigame to test your reflexes. There's a lot going on in Zelle, considering its length.
I'm not sure how to introduce this game in a way that does it justice. The music, narrative, style, it's oozing early 2000s Hot Topic edge from every pore. It's hectic and violent, blood and particle effects and blur turning every fight into a total clusterfuck of swinging swords and flying limbs, all depicted through rough, scratchy art straight out of an emo kid's sketchbook - it commits to its aesthetic with absolute dedication, and becomes somewhat of a cultural time capsule as a result. The gameplay is actually really fun too, a hypermobile 2D spectacle fighter fare where you'll be chaining slashes and launches and blink-dodges and executions and the many combos associated with each weapon, feeling like a badass superpowered ninja all the while.
Ittle Dew 2 is the game that convinced me that Zelda-style adventure games might actually be fun, without needing to be carried by the narrative. The world of Ittle Dew is cute and wholesome and family friendly (how do you think it got a PEGI 7 rating?), and while there is some secret DEEP LORE to discover, you're not going to be playing this for its mature themes or subversive narrative. You're going to be playing it because it's fun to explore the dense and varied (though thematically generic) island, filled to the brim with dungeons and secrets and upgrades and what have you, solving puzzles and
nonlethally dispatching monsters, and laughing/cringing/rolling your eyes at the game's humour. I wouldn't bother with the first game, though. This one is way better.
The theme of this post seems to be games with more than one style of gameplay. It's not a theme I stuck to all that well, but the ratio is definitely higher than average.
The Last Show of Mr. Chardish is a "walking simulator" in the tradition of Edith Finch. You walk around an abandoned theatre, learning about its proprietors and performers through documents and props strewn about the interior, as well as interactive re-enactments of plays symbolic to the theatre's past. The "plays" aren't literal stage plays (I was going to add "of course", but Kentucky Route Zero does have a literal 40 minute long stage play in one of the intermissions), but rather little games in their own right, with their own art styles and mechanics separate from the exploration you'd otherwise be doing. Of all the narrative games I've put on these lists, this is probably the most grounded. No metanarrative, no outlandish worlds to wrap your head around, just the personal story of a woman and her past.
Worlds is a very ambitious game, one which feels more like a title from the early 2000s than 2016. The visuals are fairly primitive, but have this odd dreamy quality about them, like observing them triggers a nostalgia for something vague and non-specific, the memory of a vibe buried deep in some neglected brain cell left otherwise untouched for most of my life. That might just be me, though. Worlds is a platformer, it's a shooter, it's an exploration adventure game, and it's a stealth game. I'm not sure which of those things it is the most, but it strikes a compelling balance that keeps the game from getting monotonous, especially since it's fairly long for a non-roguelike indie effort, at about 10 hours for my playthrough. The name "Worlds" is quite literal, by the way. Each of the game's levels is a distant world connected to the hub by a teleporter, which means that there's as much variety in the scenery as there is in the gameplay. There really is too much to this game to summarise it in one paragraph. Go buy it, go play it, as far as I'm concerned even full price is too cheap for a game like this.
Good luck looking this one up, by the way. As narratively appropriate as the name may be, it's fuckin impossible to search for.
I admit, this recommendation is partially self-serving. I do not understand DEIDIA. It was interesting to explore, it was a nice experience to get lost in the game's world for a few hours, but fundamentally, I don't get it. I don't get what it there is to get, really. There's lore there, I think? And a narrative about the in-universe digital world's existence? I got to the credits, even, but I also saw some things that I thought were things of significance, but that never went anywhere. Is it because they're red herrings, or because I'm not thorough enough to find the answer? I don't know. Maybe you'll figure it out and write a guide or video essay or something.
As you might have noticed, this is a demo. It's a self-contained prologue sort of demo as far as I can tell, and the developers are clearly taking quite a bit of inspiration from Disco Elysium, which is absolutely a great thing that more developers should do. The first Clam Man was a whimsical point and click adventure. Fun, but nothing that really stood out, in my opinion. Clam Man 2, however, is a wholesome, cosy experience about discovering jokes to tell at your stand-up routine, by talking to random people in the neighbourhood and helping them out with their problems, finding solutions which match your skill set and change the sorts of jokes you'll come up with during the course of the day. It really wears its influence in its sleeve, the dice rolls, the stats, the percentage chance options, even the layout of the UI, it's all very evocative of Disco, probably intentionally. But more than just a surface level resemblance, Open Mic really does seem to commit to the open-ended, freeform social roleplaying of Disco in a much different context. And it works great! Except when you fail a roll and say something incredibly embarrassing, at which point I hate it and save scum because I'm a shameless metagamer. Let's just pray to Dolores Dei that the final release is just as good.
I don't say "it's X meets Y" in these posts nearly as much as I should, so here's one: Beyond a Total Loss is like LISA meets Resident Evil. Tonally and aesthetically, it's very LISA. Wry, bizarre, and quite cruel, with movement that should be familiar to any LISA enjoyers. In terms of gameplay, it's Resident Evil in 2D. You'll be managing your tiny inventory, navigating through large levels while conserving ammo, doing puzzles, combining items, and shooting tanky enemies by locking yourself in place and using the arrows to adjust your aim up or down before firing. Admittedly that last one isn't something you do in Resident Evil, but it feels like the closest analogue to tank controls you can get in a 2D side scroller.
Surreal, dreamlike, abstract, comfy, blah blah blah I would have said the same thing I've already said like five times already in this post alone, alright? But do not get it twisted, me wearing out all my adjectives does not mean Hypnagogia Boundless Dreams is an uninteresting game, just that I'm not articulate enough to describe unique games uniquely. It takes inspiration from the likes of LSD Dream Emulator, though it's less of an incoherent trip and more of a structured adventure where you talk to strange creatures, do some puzzle solving, some platforming, and take in the beautiful PS1-inspired sights. There are also quite a lot of secret levels in the game, so stay on the look out for those. They're not the sort of secrets you want to miss.
And that's it for now. However, I must come clean, quite a few of these games I didn't actually play within any reasonable definition of "recently", given the subject matter. You can tell because those are the ones where I yoinked the screenshots from Steam instead of snapping some myself. I hope you can forgive this transgression. Still, I wasn't going to not
mention them just because I played them, like, last year instead of last month, you know? They're still good! And quite a few still have fuck all reviews, so god knows they need some attention! Some higher profile attention, ideally, but I suppose they'll have to make do with me.