2023-03-18: More More Stuff I Played Recently
Been a while since the last post, huh?* Got a month of MICROSOFT® XBOX® GAME™ PASS to play Hi-Fi Rush and Atomic Heart and some other big releases, but if you're the sort of chump who reads blogs like this you probably don't need (or want) me to talk about any of that stuff. Not like I'm the sort of essayist who'll have anything unique or enlightening to add to the discourse anyway. Here's more indies.
A game of missed opportunities, I think. What's here is very compelling, with a thick and foreboding atmosphere, a bizarre and inhospitable world to explore, and a lot of unexpected events to experience. Unfortunately, the game gets quite stale quite quickly. It's a roguelite, you see, so get ready to replay the same stuff over and over again, with most runs ending from a lucky shot taking out a critical system on your rover before you can even discover anything unique. Loot one strange structure and you've looted them all, and you'll be doing a lot of looting before you find something of interest, and then that thing of interest will probably kill you and make you start all over again. The interesting moments are spread too thin for my taste, is what I'm getting at. Still, those first few hours are very fun and very unique, and certainly worth the price of admission. I'm sure someone with a little more patience would have a great time.
Good old arcadey
fun. I saw someone describe it as One Finger Death Punch with platforming, and the only summary more apt than that is the 52 second Steam trailer. The mechanics are fundamentally very simple: press the face button that matches an enemy to dash at it, and hold the analogue stick in the direction you want to bounce. Try not to get distracted by the fantastic soundtrack while you're at it. The game builds very tight (and very difficult) platforming gauntlets without adding anything more than different enemy types, which makes it all the more annoying when you fail. The only way to progress is to get good, the only way to follow the A path is to get gooder, and the only way to Z-rank all the stages is to sacrifice your life and sanity for bragging rights over a game no one has ever heard of. Up for the challenge? I'm not, because I couldn't finish the final boss of the hard route. Gamer license revoked :/
This game is daunting to play and daunting to describe. I suppose I could call it a cryptic adventure-FPS-RPG, where you are simply dropped into a world with very little fanfare, told almost nothing about what you have to do, and then are given dick all direction for the rest of the game while you try to figure out what stuff you need to bring to which place to cause something to happen. It genuinely is the most opaque game I think I've ever played, and it's clearly intentional. Barely anything has any flavour text, NPCs speak in riddles and poems, and the effects of any item, consumable, or spell you may have is left entirely unexplained except for the name. The difficulty also is almost cruel at times. You have an extremely limited inventory which prevents you from permanently storing more than a handful of items at a time, and firing a gun basically anywhere in any populated level will immediately cause everything to rush you down and kill you, even if there are enemies which are hostile to each other around. You can also only save by going back to your home and resting, which happens to revive all enemies and respawn most items in the game world. In short, the whole game, from plot to mechanics, is an enigma inviting you to try and solve it, and it's not quite like anything I've ever played.
Manglepaw is a Myst-like point and click which nails the early prerendered 3D aesthetic, pairing it with a strange - kinda progressive? - electronic soundtrack and surreal writing. You can end the game at basically any time, but the goal is to explore as much of the train station as possible, solving puzzles to meet more weird characters, and expand your roster of potential muses. There are a couple of tricky puzzles and you're expected to explore all the nooks and crannies if you want to get the TRUE END, but it's mostly an audiovisual experience, and a very unique one at that.
Subway Midnight is something I would describe as an A U D I O V I S U A L E X P E R I E N C E, which is a polite way of saying that the art is cool but the gameplay sucks. You do a lot of walking forward, you do some basic memory and navigation puzzles, and then sometimes you do a bit of walking backward. It's nothing to write home about. The aesthetic of the game is
something to write home about, though, with a great mix of stylised 2D and 3D art, punchy audio design, and a love for filters and visual effects that borders on "totally disorienting". Also, there's a good ending and a bad ending. You get the good ending if you please all the ghosts you encounter, which is something that I'm pretty sure is impossible to do in one playthrough. Ah, but, I know what you're thinking, "these fuckin indie devs are PADDING out their game, making me play it over and over again for no good reason"! Not at all, Subway Midnight has a revolutionary mechanic that SKIPS parts of the game where you already achieved what you needed to achieve, which alone almost earned this game my GOTY 2021.
I don't think I've ever struggled to talk about a game as much as this one. The writing, by all measures I generally subscribe to, is bad. The English is broken, every other sentence is a fourth wall break, and with how much characters swear you'd think the writers were being paid by the fuck. And yet, I love it. There's something effortlessly casual
to the game's writing that makes it work for me, an "I don't give a fuck" sort of attitude that shapes the entire experience, like a story being told by a charismatic friend. This is also reflected in the gameplay, by the way, with non-point-and-click sections usually being based around figuring out an unexplained rule or trick that "solves" the encounter. It's very uniquely meta-aware, in a way most fourth wall breaking games simply are not.
(This game's demo was featured in the February 2023 Next Fest
ACE Team are masters of freaky and imaginative visuals, and The Eternal Cylinder is a great demonstration of that. This isn't really a niche game so I'll avoid waffling about it too much - just know that it's a narrative survival adventure game not entirely unlike Spore, with a beautiful world full of freaky flora and fauna to meet, and a surprisingly moving plot.
This is a remake of an Amiga 500 platformer, a fascinating era for PC gaming which produced some stunning works of art which were, to be honest, kinda shit to play. Zool Redimensioned comes with enhancements like an actual level select screen, optional turbo fire, and difficulty tweaks, and lets you play in one of two modes: a faithful adaptation of the original experience, and a modernised version with in-level checkpoints and a bigger view area. I would recommend the latter myself, because I don't really think Zool's gameplay is anything special. The game has some pretty impressive movement for the time, but the level design is so winding and mazelike that it rarely lets you use it in a satisfying way. The visuals and the music are the stars of the show here, and the modernisations let you experience the chunky tracker tunes and beautifully detailed pixel art without forcing you to go through the original game's claustrophobic difficulty. But if that sounds too casual for you, you can always switch to classic mode.
From remake to spiritual successor, Elephantasy Flipside has an uncanny resemblance to the NES game Solstice.
It (Elephantasy, not Solstice) is an open world isometric adventure platformer with a gimmick where all your "powers" are available to you basically from the start, but you have to progress to unlock the ability to carry more of them at the same time. Don't let the cutesy graphics fool you, though, the game is tough as nails, with punishing platforming, obscure secrets, undirected progression, and a good ending you can screw yourself out of if you're too trigger happy with consumables. I couldn't finish the game. Based on the collectibles, I'm not even halfway through. But I really do admire it, and I bet someone with more patience and brain cells could find in it their new favourite game. And if you do play it, make sure to read the manual. You're not going to get a tutorial.
Alright, the game does openly give you access to several cheats that can massively help out with navigation and survival. But are you really going to cheat not only the game but yourself? Not grow? Not improve? Take a shortcut and gain nothing? Experience a hollow victory?
Surreal lo-fi walking simulator with an unusually... aggressive...? take on mental health problems, compared to other such games. The game is bipolar in general, as it swings between being allegorical and extremely literal, abrasive and subdued, and quietly foreboding and just jumpscaring the shit out of you. Visually, it's quite amateurish. Chunky, blocky 3D models textured with regular old pictures or flat colours, and animations no more complex than sliding around and rotating. It's quite a striking effect, though, to have the walls covered in a tiled picture of a back alley staircase, or a looping video of someone walking into a lift. It achieves a lot, considering its technical simplicity.
*Not as long as I thought, actually. Only about a month. Here's quick summary of the game pass stuff I played:
- FAR: Changing Tides - Good, might have preferred the first one though
- Atomic Heart - Awfully boring first couple of hours, fun rest of the game. The dialogue sucks ass.
- Hi-Fi Rush - Good, but a bit too easy. Was only forced to git gud for the final boss, and this was on hard mode.
- Metal Hellsinger - Good but short, and some of the enemies are annoying to fight.
- Exo One - Cool concept, but very short and still kinda drags by the end. Cool experience regardless.
- TUNIC - Fantastic. The manual page mechanic was great, but I found it quite easy to get lost, and getting the true ending is the sort of obscure puzzle gauntlet I can't handle.
- Citizen Sleeper - Very good, but the first couple of hours are (intentionally) miserable and by the endgame there is no pressure or stakes. Still fun overall.
Highway robbery to get all that gaming for £1. Good thing most people aren't penny pinching minmaxers like me, might keep the service alive for a while longer. Could be improved by adding more obscure indie game no one knows about, though.