2023-07-29: More Stuff I Played Recently: Episode 2
There are too many games. Why are there so many games? How is a poor boy like me meant to find the time to keep up with them all? Here's six more games I played recently and liked enough to write some stuff about.
Without exaggeration, this is like nothing I've ever played before. The store page describes DETUNED as an "anti-rhythm hidden object roguelike", which is a description that's hard to disagree with; a note sheet on the left of the screen shows you which areas music will play in next, and you have to avoid them while simultaneously trying to spot and collect pearls hidden away in the background. New mechanics and twists are introduced as you get further into each "run", a randomly generated sequence of different song types, checkpoints (where you have to pay a set amount of pearls in tax or game over), and difficulty boosters. The game is evocative and unsettling, building a thick and oppressive atmosphere with harsh, discordant sound design, surrealist paper cutout visuals, and freakish creatures and environments. The developer says the game was inspired by their own experiences with sound sensitivity, and I think it captures that feeling of discomfort and dread perfectly.
I'm slowly coming to realise that the pinnacle of video games as an art form is the surreal and janky 3D platformer that doesn't seem fully on-board with this "out of bounds" thing people rave about these days. Automaton Lung is, in some ways, quite similar to other games in this overly specific subgenre, such as Anodyne 2, Sally Can't Sleep, and Going Nowhere: The Dream: big, sprawling levels with few restrictions and loose boundaries; level design that permits unintended strategies, and even glitches and exploits; and a thick, uncanny atmosphere that comes with exploring strange places that feel as though they might not have meant to be explored. A Backroomsian sort of atmosphere, if you will. Being a 3DS port, Automaton Lung is certainly rougher and jankier than the other games I named, but there's still something special about it that makes it well worth picking up. Or, perhaps, it's the jank that makes it special in the first place. It's hard to tell.
Harmony Zone/thecatamites has been releasing weird and avant-garde games for years, but Magic Wand happens to be his first - and, so far, only - Steam release. It's actually a pretty good encapsulation of his game design philosophy. I'm not capable of explaining that philosophy in one paragraph, but if Magic Wand strikes your fancy, then everything else he makes will probably interest you too. If I was to try to explain Magic Wand, the game feels somewhat like playing as an NPC stumbling through the world a few steps behind the actual hero. Your protagonist doesn't really do
much aside from wandering from place to place, doing light platforming and slashing some monsters, talking to random strangers who allude to D E E P L O R E and a greater narrative, that your character seems to be participating in but doesn't particularly care about. It's a whimsical and baffling anti-game of sorts. Give it a look.
As an enjoyer of strange and atmospheric 3D games - especially platformers - I have been absolutely spoilt by the recent (not actually that recent) wave of fifth console gen throwback games. Pseudoregalia is one such game, its smeared textures and low polygon count and elaborate moveset clearly harking back to the mascot platformers of the N64, but also improving on them with a level of smoothness and complexity that games back then couldn't really achieve with the hardware. I'm not gonna waste your time, this is an easy EASY recommendation. Great music, great atmosphere, top notch platforming, just fantastic all round. Cheap as hell, too. More of a "conventional" platformer than Automaton Lung or Anodyne 2, but still fantastic and well worth playing.
I'm gonna be honest, I didn't expect Parallel to be all that good? The screenshots looked pretty in that Unreal shovelware sort of way, the translation looked rough, lots of reviews from people with a suspiciously low play time... I got it anyway, and I'm glad I did. The translation is indeed rough (with thickly accented voice acting to match), but the actual game has a surprising amount of depth and care put into it, the slow walking simulatoresque start giving way to some borderline experimental blend of janky first person platforming, exploration, combat, and even a choice of factions with unique quests for the late game. There are also very few invisible walls, and a later part of the game requires a bit of creative world navigation and platforming. I'm always down for that.
A terrible name for a swell little game. ACE Team's Zenozoik, introduced in the 2009 game Zeno Clash, is probably the most creative and unusual fantasy world video games have ever seen, and this is its highest fidelity appearance yet. The Souls inspiration is quite apparent, with the first person brawling of the Zeno Clash games replaced by slower and more methodical combat from an over the shoulder perspective, and a dense and winding game world with shortcuts and passages back and forth all over the place. The invisible walls get a little ridiculous at times, but they do ultimately make the game better than having brick all over the place; the game world is gorgeous and interconnected, and, wherever you are, chances are you can see lots of places you've already been or are yet to go off in the distance, giving the setting a sense of physicality and presence a lot of similar open world games lack. The combat takes some getting used to, but it's worth sticking with it just to see everything else the game has to offer.
And we're done. Don't have much to say in this little end bit this time, so I guess I'll just say nothing.