2023-06-10: 4×(More) Stuff I Played Recently
This post has to have the lowest average review count to date. God bless Steam's new releases queue, eh?
Sally Can't Sleep is a first person platformer which is hard to do justice with a single screenshot and a single paragraph. It's good! Very good, in fact, with a massive, interconnected, and varied world, some stunning (and some very janky and lo-fi) art, a big assortment of high skill ceiling movement mechanics, phenomenal ambience, and a great sense of humour. It's surprisingly long, too, considering the size of both the game's price tag and development team. It reminds me of Anodyne 2, in a way. There's a focus on open-ended level design and exploration of the game world beyond what is generally "acceptable" for games, and it won't try to stop you from doing your funkiest and jankiest manoeuvres with invisible walls or arbitrary restrictions. What's out of bounds for one game is just another part of the world here; it embodies the idea of the "delight of the 3D model"
better than any game I've played in a very long time. I guess it looks a bit ugly in places, but if that bothers you then what are you doing reading this blog in the first place?
Some games have easter eggs. Little messages or references, inconsequential but fun things for people to find. Other games have secrets with more substance. Hidden levels, secret weapons, maybe even hidden plot or lore. Going Nowhere is
secrets. Play through the game as you would anything else, and you'll likely find yourself finishing the story in less than an hour, the greyed out entires in the level select your only clue that you actually missed something. It's similar to Sally Can't Sleep, in a way, but more intentional. Where that game gives you a space to play around with all the tools you have to hand, Going Nowhere feels
linear, quietly teasing you with suspicious platforms and jutting out bits of level geometry, daring you to defy all that gamer conditioning that tells you that if you investigate further you'll just be rewarded with nothing but an invisible wall for your efforts. There's a bit of jank and tedium involved, sure, but there's an undeniable thrill to it that I've mostly only felt in Analgesic Productions titles. The game is also outrageously cheap, after its depressing lack of success caused the dev to reduce the price multiple times. You have no excuse to skip this one.
If you own a VR headset, chances are you can relate to the weird everpresent disconnect between your virtual and real body, and the little brainfucks that occur when you have to transition your attention from one to the other. INTERNULL builds a game around this disconnect, putting you in a freaky office complex with nothing but a wireless VR headset for company. I want to spoil the experience as little as possible, so I'll say this: INTERNULL is a puzzle game where the puzzle is figuring out how the mechanics of the game actually work in the first place. It's a very unique experience, and certainly not one I've ever had in a non-VR game before.
While I'm sure part of it is RPG Maker limitations, I love the Windows 95 maze screensaver feel this game has going on. It's crunchy and crusty, which works perfectly for the surreal, abstract, somewhat shitposty feel of the game, a first person grid-based dungeon crawler with RPG Maker combat and a spiritual/religious narrative, populated with references that suggest at least mild obsession with image board culture. The combat is boring and sucks ass and there are quite a few typos in the text, but the rest of the game really makes up for it. It honestly makes me wish more developers of surreal RPG Maker games took their games in this direction, it tickles me in a way the engine's standard perspective just doesn't.
Ibis AM is slow, mechanically simple, and narratively abstract, making it quite difficult to write about in such a short format. It has a strong aesthetic and gameplay based around carrying fish, which act as both resources to finish the level and restore your rapidly dwindling hunger meter, making it a sort of exploration puzzle game? I dunno, I want to say that it has LSD Dream Emulator vibes, but it's too intentional in its narrative and presentation for that comparison to work all that well. You'll just have to check it out for yourself.
Last but certainly not least, Ctrl Alt Ego is essentially a classic immersive sim with the unique mechanic of being able to possess many robots and electronic devices in the game world. It's phenomenal! Not going to put any "but"s on that statement, Ctrl Alt Ego is a fantastic game developed in the spirit of Deus Ex and System Shock, with cool and creative new gameplay mechanics supplemented by a well designed and cohesive retrofuturistic world not entirely unreminiscent of Red Dwarf with more 70s office decor. It's only last on the list because it has the most reviews, but it is, without exaggeration, an amaaaaaazing game. Don't sleep on it.
Bit of a shorter one this time, but sticking to a minimum of like ten games a post was getting annoying. If you're reading this and actually care about the format, I'll probably stick to fewer games in the future, especially since I want to focus more on super small indies like the ones on this list. Like, we all know what Neon White is, right? Why waste both our time?