2023-12-08: Stuff I Played Recently Part X(-mas), featuring THE OFFICIAL RICK ZONE GAME OF THE YEAR AWARD

Originally, I was going to have a separate OFFICIAL RICK ZONE GAME OF THE YEAR post where I fellated Sally Can't Sleep for however many paragraphs I could wring out of my diminutive, ensmoothed brain, but it turns out that writing lots of words and having those words actually mean something is hard. So, fuck it. The OFFICIAL RICK ZONE GAME OF THE YEAR award is bestowed right here, right now, in this Happy Holidays Special Prologue to Stuff I Played Recently, and it's going directly to chimp games' SALLY CAN'T SLEEP! *raucous studio audience applause and cheering*

Sally Can't Sleep Steam library cover

I fuckin love Sally Can't Sleep. I love how it looks, I love how it sounds, I love how it plays, and I love its humour and creativity and how it revels in its own limitations and every single other thing about it. As far as I'm concerned it's a straight up 10/10 game and I'm not going to elaborate because my words can't do it justice. I may not be erudite, but I know what I like, and I know that I like this game in a way I've liked very few games before. Congratulations to Sally Can't Sleep and chimp games for being the first EVER recipients of the coveted and extremely prestigious OFFICIAL RICK ZONE GAME OF THE YEAR award, hopefully the first of many. Now back to all those other games that aren't ORZGOTYs but are still pretty good I guess.

Eternal King

Am I upset that chimp, developer of my beloved Sally Can't Sleep, hasn't made any more platformers? Well, yes, a little, but how can I criticise a man for the pursuit of novelty? C.B.T. was a little too hardcore for me, but Eternal King I can very much get down with. Good music, fun combat, and a charming low-fidelity visual style come together to make one solid hack and slash roguelite experience. And I don't even like roguelites! To elaborate, the game has a level-based structure: each level has eight waves, each wave randomly picked out of a pool of potential arena configurations. As you progress through the waves you are given the choice of one of three random special moves, each one with varying offensive and defensive utility. It's a fun system, injecting the thrill of unpredictability with minimal loss of progress if you fail.
Eternal King screenshot


Man, I fucking love platfomers. Do you know I love platformers? Because I do. By extension I love Mousey, the fun and highly SOVLFVL 3D collectathon, filled to the brim with little touches and flourishes that give the animation, level design, and visuals a tonne of charm. It's a bit of a short game (and a very cheap one), but there are secret collectibles, unlockable levels, and time trials that can extend the experience a fair bit if length is something you're concerned about. What else is there to say? The music is good, the controls are fluid, it looks nice (but good god the depth of field is just too much), and I really really hope that sequel it teased is actually made at some point.
Mousey screenshot


Omnigon is a humorous 2D platformer with some cool but underexplored gameplay mechanics, and an apparent insecurity about whether it counts as a metroidvania or not. One of the game's standout features is a shapeshifting power that swaps most enemies and objects into something else and back again. It's a fun mechanic that results in some amusing and unexpected outcomes, but ended up being less mandatory than I first thought. The second is the hat stacking mechanic. Different hats give different effects, but as you assemble a bigger and bigger pillar of hats, your hitbox grows and it becomes harder for you to navigate the game map. Cool, right? Well, it is, but it's also almost never something you have to engage with much, and I won't elaborate on that point because this is a recommendation and not a critique. The game is funny, charming, fun to explore, cheap as hell, and at the end it left me wanting more. 3¾ out of 4 hats.
Omnigon screenshot

The Real Texas

The Real Texas is a top-down action-adventure-shooter-exploration-puzzle game with quirky visuals and quirky music and quirky everything, and it has a lot of charm and I love it oh so much and yet. I never finished it. I got stuck. For The Real Texas is a demanding beast with a sprawling non-linear open world, tonnes of secrets, and not much in the way of direct guidance. So here I am, eight hours in, ruefully admitting defeat, because I simply do not know what to do next. And I'm gonna recommend the game anyway, because as we previously established my brain is tiny and smooth and I know there are people out there who call La Mulana their favourite game, and for whom this sort of obscurity is not a problem but rather a big part of the fun.

By the way, the game never goes on sale. If you're not willing to pay the full price of fifteen bucks then you're outta luck.
The Real Texas screenshot


Holy moly, what a game! A strong contender for the OFFICIAL RICK ZONE GAME OF THE YEAR award emerges at the very tail end of the year, not quite taking the crown from Sally, but definitely leaving one hell of an impression. And where to even begin? Frebbventure is a 2D platformer with some of the most gameplay variety I've ever seen crammed into a single cohesive game. The main game has four characters, each with a very distinct gameplay style, and several upgrades for each character that completely change up their move sets even further - that's not even accounting for the unique side scroller and shoot-em-up levels, or for the detailed and feature rich post-game challenge mode that lets you unlock bosses as playable characters. For a one person project, there is a ridiculous amount of content packed into Frebbventure, even if you don't care about post-game content at all.

And the writing? Honestly, genius. Frebb is one of the best written self-aware asshole characters ever put in a video game, as far as I'm concerned. The dialogue is witty and natural (as natural as the Dragonball shenanigans allow, anyway), and while the narrative is cartoonish, it's executed in a way that's fun and engaging, and makes it clear that the story and characters are a part of the game that a lot of thought went into. I could say more, but you're not here for me, you're here for the games, and hopefully I've made it clear that this is a title well worth getting. Hell, I even used an uncharacteristic line break because of this entry's length, but what better time than now? Christmas is the time of excess, after all. So sayeth supply side Jesus.
Frebbventure screenshot

And so ends the final RICK ZONE post for 2023. A... mixed year, all things considered, with plenty of brilliant indie releases (some of which are documented on this humble little website) on one hand, and some of the harshest, widest scale job losses the industry has seen in a long time on the other. But, it just goes to show the power of the solo indie developer as a creative force, not beholden to the whims of focus groups or MBAs with twitchy trigger fingers or The Market, but their own motivations and passion (and personal circumstances, of course, but, still), building unique and SOULFUL experiences straight from the heart. Not all of them will see success, of course. Time and attention are limited resources, advertising wins product wars, and people are too preoccupied putting thousands of hours into games they hate to spend a few hours playing something they'd love, but... You and I? We're here. Sally and Frebb and Omnigon may not have millions of players and industry accolades and special shout-outs from the Dorito Pope himself, but they have us. The small crowds of fans and evangelists that appreciate these games for the unique works of art they are.

Merry crimbo. Now go buy some games, would ya?!