Continuing on from part the first, this week brings a New Batch of games from the Haunted PS1 Demo Disk. I’m really digging the “short story anthology” nature of this project. In horror fiction there’s a lot to be said for getting into a scene, setting up a freak out, and then taking it home. A lot of my issues with large scale survival horror games boil down to not being scared after the first level or so. The first time that zombie dog breaks down the window is super frightening. The 200th time fifteen hours of game-play later, not so much.
Just to be clear, I do understand that these games are mostly short project and/or demos, so I’m not treating them as fully polished final projects. Hopefully I’ll be able to take a deeper dive into some of these when they are finished. On with today’s selections!
Fatum Betula by Bryce Bucher is the most puzzle focused of the haunted games this week. You awake in a temple with a floating house plant and then a giant toothy vagina tells you to water it with three fluids (but not your own blood cause that would cause bad things). So, you set out on a journey involving a catman caught in a rock, a dead fisherman, and a lost painting. It’s all very trippy and dreamlike. The puzzles in the demo are fairly basic, but I found the freaky little dreamworld fun to explore.* I’d really like to see this one expanded into a larger narrative with more puzzles and characters to interact with.
Killer Bees are terrifying. Regular bees just want to get up ons some flowers. Killer Bees want you dead. The Killer Bees in Killer Bees by Neurobew inhabit the corridors of a abandoned hotel (or mansion? I’m not really clear on the story here, but that doesn’t matter. Only the bees matter). They might actually be alien or trans-dimensional horror bees. You can shoot the bees! But you have limited ammo because survival horror! Oh, no! I really like the VHS style effects on display here. From the filters to the short video clips you can unlock, Killer Bees evokes a nice sense of nostalgia for the good/bad old days of FMV games.**
Ode to a Moon
Ode to a Moon by Colorfiction is the most polished game I’ve seen so far on the HPS1DD. Your character is that idiot who’s going to go out to small town to witness their rustic festival for the eclipse.*** The journey begins as a slightly unsettling day and ends in full-on non-euclidean geometry freak out times. There are some seriously beautiful visual effects being created here. I came across a bunch of weird glows and freaky mists that I just enjoyed looking at for a while. I really would like to see this one expanded and polished up for a full release.
*Maybe a bit heavy on the flashy seizure-y effects? That would be my one criticism. **Next year should bring us the HAUNTED 3DO DEMO DISK! Or not. That thing was trash time. ***NOT THE BEES!
One of the coolest things I’ve come across in the last months is the Haunted PS1 Demo Disk. It’s a compilation of a bunch of horror themed indie games in the style of the august PlayStation 1. Now, the PS1 is not a machine I have a ton of nostalgia for, aesthetically speaking, but I absolutely *love* that there is a dedicated group of horror devs that wants to explore the janky textures and wonky controls of that old warhorse. I am the hype to go through these games over the next month or so and see what turns up.
Tasty Ramen is an appropriate game about shopping in the time of Corona. You need to escape a convenience store while being hunter by a horrifying anthropomorphic ramen mascot. You can distract it by throwing ramen packets for it to eat (filthy cannibal that it is), but mostly the game-play is a combination of stealth and running for your butt’s life. It’s cute and fun and terrifying and accurate to my lifestyle.
Rating: Three post-cheese-ramen-binge burps
A Place, Forbidden
Short, sweet, with solid creepy atmosphere. A Place, Forbidden plays like a H.P. Lovecraft short story. You arrive in a library. The library is FORBIDDEN, but that doesn’t stop you as you are looking for lost occult knowledge. You solve a couple puzzles, and then you learn too much FORBIDDEN knowledge! I really dug on the writing here.
Rating: A Burp, Forbidden
I don’t even know what is Neko Yume. This is like the time I was a cat and took too much acid. More a trippy art project where you navigate crazy cat infested hellscapes than anything else. This inspired me to create wild 3D lofi landscapes, and I appreciate any game that provides me with muse.
Do you know what was awesome? Shareware. My home-wizards and I used to pass around disks of cheap-as-free game demos of classics like Wolfenstein 3D, Scorched Earth, and (the King of Shareware) DOOM. A lot of those games were the best entertainment a poor-ass high-school wizard could find. Some were not. I’m going to talk about “not” before praising Haunted Lands which is not “not”.
The thing that DOS really couldn’t do was platforming. A lot of these old shareware games were run-and-gun style platformers, and they (in my not-so-humble opinion) stank like the feet of unwashed hobbits. These were games like Alien Carnage, Duke Nukem 1 & 2 (the precursors to the 3D masterpiece), Monster Bash, and *shudders* Electro Man.* I mean, I have nostalgia for these games. I don’t mean to crap on your childhood**, but those games were slow paced with janky mechanics and sub-par graphics. For whatever reason DOS was not meant to run platformers. Get ye to yon Master System and load up some Wonder Boy or Shinobi if you need some platforming. That’s all I’m saying. You know it to be true.
Which brings me back around to Haunted Lands. Haunted Lands by someone named alevgor*** has nostalgia for those 3.5 diskettes of goodness and made a cool little run and gun plat-former to show it. Basically Haunted Lands is Duke Nukem plus DOOM. It’s a run-and-gun (though somewhat methodically paced) where you use a shotgun to splatter an unreasonable amount of pixelated gore about the screen. Here’s a brief breakdown:
The presentation: As alluded to above DOS shareware is the major graphical influence. It has bigger sprites with a more limited color pallet than a lot of games, but everything is nice and clear and explodes into some good old-fashioned blood-and-guts when shot at.
The music hearkens back to the Amiga more than DOS. Which is cool because the Amiga (and it’s predecessor the C64) had sick nasty sounds.
The game-play: Shotguns are them main mechanic. You can’t just wildly fire and expect the bullets to keep coming John Woo style. You need to stop and reload from time-to-time. This creates a different rhythm to the game from a lot of other platformers and often you are looking for a safe spot amongst the madness to reload which adds to the horror game panic vibe. Each of the two playable characters handles reloading differently with the woman taking less time to reload but needs to reload all or nothing and the man loading slower but can load single bullets. It’s a really clever way to create different play-styles. You also have a jump that can keep you above the fray and a doge roll. Put all together it feels a lot like Risk of Rain, where you are constantly using move abilities and jumps to better activate your gimmicky weapon.
Also like Risk of Rain, it’s super difficult. It’s “Nintendo Hard” and is unapologetic about it. You get limited lives and continues, and the reloading mechanic is hard to master. I stink at this game, but I had fun playing it. Which is the point of games, no?
All in all Haunted Lands is fun times. It’s nice to see some nostalgia that different than your standard SNESIndie styles. It’s cheap as free which is appropriate. Go play it.
*The only one that gets a pass is Jazz Jackrabbit. That game was and is awesome with a sick nasty rad soundtrack. Jazz > Sonic. Fight me. Fight me and lose.
**I kind of do.
***Who I can’t find on social media. Hit me up if you see this.
Don’t mess around with unmentionable Elder Gods From Beyond Time and Space. You’d think that it would be easy to not pray to the unnameable Old Ones. But, no. There’s always some cult leader willing to worship Chthulhu or Hastur or Dick Cheney* or something. It never ends well. Best case scenario is that the dark god manifests squamous tentacles and pulls you into the stygian abyss beyond the stars to be tortured in unblinking wakefulness as the universe decays into to chaos and once universal heat death comes after billions upon billions of years you will remain always wakeful and ever aware of your failure, alone in your cosmic madness. Worst case scenario… is worse than that, I suppose.
In Sea Salt by YCJY you play as one of the indescribable great old ones bringing hideous punishment down upon your gibbering followers. See, the people of this town have been worshiping you, but now their High Priest has refused to sacrifice himself. And for his loathsome cowardice you must punish all the people of the town. Even the babies.
To properly punish these fools you summon a swarm of various hidious Lovecraftian horrors. Tenebrous acidic worms. Fish people summoned from the cyclopean depths. Cultists shrieking with madness. Eldritch skittering horrors of all sorts. You have some control over your swarm, but you can only control their general actions. You point at a towns-person and your swarm will attempt to do the rest. It’s not an entirely unique mechanic, I know I’ve seen it used a few times before**, but it makes a nice change of pace from the usual top down adventure game. And, it’s satisfying to send a swarm of crabs to tear about some poor soul. The drawback is that your control lacks nuance. You critters will sometimes not attack the enemy you want and will have occasional path-finding issues. These imprecise controls force you to think differently about how you handle a situation.
The graphics are your standard 16-Bit Indie Tribute with a fun Lovecraftian twist. Pixelated gore is always funny. The backgrounds and cut scenes are lovely and evocative of a misty night in a New England town when a monstrosity crawls up from the moldering depths to prey on the unwitting townsfolk. My only complaint is that sometimes the mist and darkness make it hard to read the screen, which can on occasion make it difficult to properly rend your prey.
Overall, I found Sea Salt an enjoyable game. It’s not without it’s flaws, but if you are a fan of the Mythos and cool non-Euclidean Indie games then you could do worse than spend some time with this one. Go on. Buy it. I command it. Don’t make me come up there and rend you.
*So much for unnameable. **There was this Roman Centurion themed game a few years back that I cannot remember the name of. Great Old Ones like myself grow forgetful.
Ain’t no party like a BitSummit river party ’cause a BitSummit river party ends in tears.
So, another BitSummit has come and gone and I saw some games and I have some thoughts. Thoughts and games. That is what we do here. Fresh games and Burpy thoughts.
I didn’t really detect any distinct trends this year but here are some main take aways:
1. The Indie bread-and-butter remains retro re-imaginings. Still a whole lot of pixel art and 2D platformers. Which is fine. There were some really illustrations of how this is not an aesthetic that has been completely mined out yet. See Olija or Unpacking for some good examples. As much as I love the art style, I try to check my own nostalgia when evaluating it. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake isn’t really healthy, in my opinion. But I think most of these Indie games make the case for retro being something that can still create vibrant art all these many years after Cave Story and it’s like. At least we’re not seeing a wave of PS1 / N64 block-ass polygons. A few of those exist among the Indies, but I think it for the best that those particular looks aren’t really making a come back.
2. I was all prepared to do a whine about “story games” taking over the scene. I’ve been streaming a lot of games that are story heavy to the point where they are essentially video novels or art pieces. And, if you watch the stream (as you should at 10:00 PM Korean Time on Tuesdays) you know I can get salty at the lack of “game-play.” I was all ready to complain about the influx of these games at BitSummit but:
a. There really weren’t so many of them that they amounted to a “take over.”
c. Also, to hell with me for doing this sort of gate-keeping nonsense.
People should make what they want to make and play what they want to play with out having me whine about them not be “real” games. Seriously, I do try to check my own assumptions about what games are “proper games” in my own thoughts and musings.
3. VR still remains a bit of a novelty on the Indie Scene. There were some VR games (with long lines, mostly, I think, because the demos take more time), but nothing game changing yet. My cranky opinion is that VR is a gimmick that, despite the money put into hardware and software development, will remain a niche novelty in the gaming world. A rant that will no doubt age well may be posted on Burpy Fresh at some point.
Before I list the games I liked I want to say that I legitimately appreciate all the work that all the devs put into all these games. Games are the new everything in art and people who aren’t checking out the Indie Scene are missing all the future of art.
Now, on to a list of games I thought were cool or good or both:
Atomicrops – I did not know I needed a mash up Stardew Valley and Nuclear Throne, but I did. I did need this.
Chrono Sword – From the good folks at 21c.Ducks. The Ducks are a Korean outfit and have a whole lot of talent. I think they have hopes for this to be their breakout game. It’s early in development, but the combat mechanics are smooth and enjoyable, and the abstract pixel art looks real good.
Coffee Talk – From the good people from Toge Productions makers of MagiCat and She and the Light Bearer. I didn’t get to play this one much, but Toge means quality and this is a game where you can drink cappuccinos with like demon wizards, so I’m intrigued.
Creature Keeper – An early in development Zelda-esque adventure game from the one-man-band Fevir. Also early in development, but this is totally right up my alley. The gimmick is that you can tame creatures and use them to fight for you. Dreams of a Nethack style pacifist run swim through my head.
Firegirl – Full disclosure that the artist on this is a good friend of Burpy Fresh, but I feel like this merits a mention. The art is good. The game-play unique. This is a game that could get really good over the next year or two before it’s released. Burn it all, Firegirl. Burn. It. All.
Here and There – One of the most beautiful art-games to come out of BitSummit this year. Has lovely hand-drawn artwork with surrealistic animations. This is out on the iPad and worth the time to check out next time you have a long train ride or something.
Jack Axe – Cute puzzle plat-former that is way harder than it looks. It’s like Celeste but you’re an ax wielding viking girl. I’m definitely going to be playing this when it comes out.
Legal Dungeon – A new jam from South Korea’s Somi this is a political text based puzzle game in the vein of Papers Please. Depending on how you choose to fill out police paperwork you can influence whether or not innocent people are found guilty or guilty people walk. You can ruin lives and bring points to your precinct. It’s like The Wire: The Game! Extremely clever if a bit depressing.
Lost Ember – YOU CAN BE A WOMBAT IN THIS GAME! I mean… what else do you need. Do you need good graphics, creative exploration, and a whole lot of polish? Well, fine, you have that too. Really looking forward to full release of this one.
Me and (My) Cat’s Castle – I’m not really sure what’s going on in this difficult plat-former, but I like it. It’s the type of wack small-scale game that I like seeing at these things. Hopefully, I can figure out how to get a copy so I can play it but the site is in the Japanese…
Neon Tail – “We were tiered of waiting for a new Jet Grind Radio so we decided to make our own.” SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! I am the hype about this one.
No Straight Roads – One of the most promising games at BitSummit. This game gives out a very big Double Fine vibe. The premise is that your stylish rockers need to band together to defeat and evil businessman that is made of only EDM. I’m curious to see the final product here, and this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Olija – Easily one of the best games at BitSummit. Polished retro-plat-former with Another World / Out of This World inspired graphics. You get to throw a trident at pirates! That’s pretty much all I ask re: pirates. It’s almost ready for release, and I plan to play a bunch of it.
Phogs – We say this a BICFest last year. It’s still good. A lot of surreal touches and giant bugs have been added since I last saw it. One of the more professional and polished games in the mix this year.
Shores Unknown – This is being created by a team that knows that Planescape: Torment in the best RPG of all time. They understand the truth and are working on their own game. That is an important part of indie games. Knowing what you like and trying to make more games like it. Set for release next year, I’m excited to see the final product and visit some alternate realities.
Super Retro Maker – This could be a huge thing. I spend a lot of time watching Mario Maker streamers, and I really think this game could break big if things go well. I’m half considering devoting myself to streaming SRM when it comes out next year, that’s how excited I am.
Tales of the Neon Sea – I streamed this last week, and will probably stream it tomorrow. It’s a styling and profiling adventure game with elements of Beneath a Steel Sky and Police Quest. I’ll get around to a full review of it in… checks watch… 2023… damn…
Unpacking – Unpacking things after moving is the worst thing in the world. How does this game make it so fun? It is dark magic. This is a unique puzzle game with some gorgeous pixel art.
World of Horror – So you take the retro-Macintosh graphics from Return of the Obra Din and add some of that H.P. Lovecraft special sauce to the mix? Yes. This please.
1. More Lasers – I was disappointed to find out that there are no advanced bird mounted lasers in Feather. No weapons of any kind really. No assault rifles. No shotguns. Not even any pistols. You are just a bird flying around and just… *looking* at things. Who would want to just spend some peaceful times looking at things when they could be blowing up a fully destructible environment with rockets and bombs. More lasers in the update please!
2. Heavy Metal Soundtrack – The music in feather is far too calming and relaxing. Why would anyone listen to the dulcet ambient tones of Mitchell Pasman when they could listen to real manly music from groups such as Corroded Funeral, Screams of Chaos, or Deathspell Omega? I mean, it’s like Samurai Punk wants us to relax and enjoy life a bit instead of maintaining in a constant state of PUMPED UP RAGE! Who has time for not being angry all the time?
3. Brutal Death Animations – You can’t die in this game. When you crash the game just rewinds time a bit so that you can take a different path through the scenery. I tried repeatedly to kill my bird by crashing it into to everything that I could find in the world. There were beautiful water falls that didn’t kill me. Lovely forests that didn’t kill me. And majestic snowy mountaintops that also failed the murder my bird. When a bird dies it should have a really gory animation where it explodes in a giant puddle of bird goo. I tested this by taping birdseed to the inside of the windows in my apartment and documenting the results when the birds smacked into it. It’s super gross.
4. More Missions and Achievements – I don’t know about you, but having no structure in a game is really frustrating. I mean, Feather just expects you to fly around and explore the world. You can find hidden underground caves leading to grottoes of musical mushrooms. But really this game needs a rigid quest and achievement system to keep the player on track. If we don’t have quest markers, how will me know what to do?
5. Multiplayer Death-match Battle Royale Mode – There is a multiplayer component to Feather. You can see other birds that are online with you at the same time. You can even may bird noise at them and follow their paths as if you were free as a… um… bird. But real gamers don’t want to be free as a bird. They want to be free as Americans. Which are the freest things in the world. And that includes the freedom to destroy weaker players with your elite skills. Other people shouldn’t be allowed to play this game without being instantly slaughters by my rocket laser bird (see point 1). That is true freedom. Git gud.
One of the fundamental truths of 21st Century society is that you are always being watched. Every key press is logged. Every purchase entered into a ledger at a nameless data mining corporation (or government spy agency if there is even a difference between governmental and corporate surveillance in this day and age). And more than likely there is a camera somewhere right now capable of watching you. I would say it would be easy to become paranoid under these conditions, but I’m not certain that the word “paranoia” has any validity or meaning in a reality where everything you do is being detected and inspected*. Paranoia isn’t a state we can can enter anymore, paranoia is the air that we breathe and as such has ceased to have any meaning. We all exist in a global panopticon never quite sure if we are being observed or by whom, but we do know that every single moment the possibility exists that we are being watched and probably by weirdos. Sweaty men sitting in darkened rooms (or government/nameless corporate offices) lit only by the glow of their computer monitors watching as you put on your socks in the morning unaware that the camera on your electronic coffee maker is unsecured. They get out a yellow notebook and write down “left first – then right” and move on to the next camera. Anyone who isn’t paranoid in this situation is probably a sociopath unable to even comprehend the basics of modern life. This is REALITY. This is also Do Not Feed the Monkeysby Fictiorama Studios.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys is one of my favorite games of the last few years because it combines my paranoid world view** with my love for LucasArts style adventure games with a healthy dose of actual real humor. It is a game unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and that, my friends, is why I do this.
The whole conceit of DNFTM is that you are one of them weirdos who watches people and makes notes about other peoples’ socks. You live in a dingy apartment and have access to a application that lets you watch feeds from unsecured video cameras from around the world. Some feeds are simply of nameless assembly lines or microwaves or other mundane tableau, but others are more interactive. Some of the feeds (“cages”) have people (“monkeys”) that you can observe and take notes about. Your notes generate search terms that you can put into a search engine to learn more about the situation in the cage. A shadowy organization will occasionally contact you offering cash for information (“what is the address for cage #4?”) or you can use your notes to manipulate and blackmail people (“feed the monkeys”). Obviously the name of the game is “DO NOT Feed the Monkeys” and your are warned about interacting with your subjects too much but it’s really hard not to when you know you could get away with it.
And that, I think, is the true genius of DNFTM. It is always presenting you with the option to cross the line between the observer and the observed. This is some Foucault Discipline and Punish type of next level smart game writing here. Where even at the digital distance created by computers there is still a relationship between the viewer and the viewed. And once you start interfering? What are you then? You become more like a jailer than a silent watcher, and you are changed.
The other aspect of DNFTM game-play is some basic life management. You can’t just sit and watch your computer all day as addictive as it is. You need to eat, sleep, and make money for rent and food. You can make money by solving puzzles and blackmail, but you’ll need to take time to do some menial jobs. Ideally you’ll time these so that you don’t miss anything important in your cages, but if you time it wrong you can render puzzles unsolvable. Does that make you paranoid? It should! You also have to purchase and balance your intake of food. Too many pizzas and your health will suffer, but healthy food is harder to procure and more expensive. Also, you need a lot of coffee. Ultimately, I didn’t find the management sim parts of DNFTM as engaging as the puzzle solving, but on the other hand, the sim portions serve to flesh out the world and make your whole experience seem more real. Again, if nothing else, this isn’t something I’ve seen before and I love DNFTM for that.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great LucasArts inspired art style. Anyone who played Sam & Max Hit the Road or Indian Jomes and the Fate of Atlanta back in the day will recognize the 90s PC pixel art style. The art is simultaneously well done and references games that tell my brain that “there are puzzles to solve here and I must solve them”. There is also a robust soundtrack ranging from classical to slow old country tunes to Russian folk songs. The music is both incongruous and completely appropriate and had me nervously laughing multiple times during my play-through.
Laughing brings me to my final point. Which is that DNFTM is one of the funniest games I have ever played. So many little humorous touches are all over DNFTM. The morning newspaper has funny stories. Weird people come to your door with hilarious dialogue. Again, the LucasArts influence can be felt keenly here making me think of Secret of Monkey Island***** and such. With the humorous writing set against the pure absurdity of what you’re doing in the game, I was laughing through much of my play-through. That isn’t easy, and much respect to the writers here.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys isn’t a perfect game, but it is a great game. I have minor issues with some of the aspects of the game (the puzzles are somewhat inconsistent in quality and I found the life sim underwhelming) but it is much more than the sum of it’s parts. It’s a little bit jank, but it feels like it should be. It’s real. It’s creative. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. And somewhere someone is watching you play it and making notes on your progress in a yellowed notebook in the most meta of meta-game imaginable.
*But never rejected. No. It will be saved and used by someone for something at some point in the future. We are incapable of forgetting anymore. No forgiveness with out forgetfulness.
**Once again, I submit that I am not paranoid***. It is you who is not paranoid enough.
***I also feel like I should shout out to the old West End pencil and paper RPG classic Paranoia. Which is one of my favorite games of all time and did a lot to influence both how I run games and what I want to see from other games. Basically a combination of narrative freedom with crushing brutal consequences for that freedom. Hit me up if you fancy a game sometime.
*****Which is a connection I somehow didn’t make until writing that sentence. Derp.
Alice didn’t like being criticised, so she began asking questions. `Aren’t you sometimes frightened at being planted out here, with nobody to take care of you?’
`There’s the tree in the middle,’ said the Rose: `what else is it good for?’
`But what could it do, if any danger came?’ Alice asked.
`It says “Bough-wough!” cried a Daisy: `that’s why its branches are called boughs!’
-Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll, 1871
See, now this is why talking to flowers is generally speaking a waste of time. Alice learned this the hard way. But then again, she was messing about in the nega-verse and seriously even highly trained Wizards such as myself know not to mess with that place.* There are a lot of flowers in She and the Light Bearer from Toge Productions and if you are not careful they will pun you. They will pun you hard.
I spent a lot of time being berated by an angry mushroom in She. At first, much like my adorable firefly avatar, this made me angry. Especially after I’d put up with flower puns. Who was this guy to be so crabby at me? But after a while I began to gain some semblance of wisdom. These plants were trying to teach me something, and if I gave in to anger I wouldn’t hear it. All the frustrating foliage you talk to in She are just trying to make sure you get where you need to go.
She is an interactive story. It’s presented as a point and click adventure game, but none of the puzzles are really what you’d call challenges**. That being said, the story told is really quite a good one. You avatar is a “firefly” who is searching a great forest of the lost Mother. I put “firefly” in quotes as you are clearly some sort of mythological fairy-type being and not a bug. You’re mission is ill defined and you have to talk to the denizens of the forest to learn how to move forward. In addition to the punning flowers and the angry mushroom you’ll meet creepy potatoes and the Great Deku Tree. Each character you meet forces you to think about your quest. Not in a puzzle-y way (though you will have to collect and manipulate McGuffins for them), but in a way that makes you think about the nature of quests and the nature of… um…. nature.
What I’m trying to say here is that the writing is really good. She and the Light Bearer makes for excellent bedtime story materials for children of all ages with humor and compassion and thoughtful meditations on the world.
And truly the story is really on the second best part of She. The art is the real star of the show with gorgeous scenery and expressive character design. I’m burying the lede all the way down at the bottom of this review, but the art is truly spectacular. I really want to see more from these creators in the future.
She and the Light Bearer may be a bit light**** on gameplay but it makes up for it with amazing art and a unique engaging story. Worth your time and money for the experience, and it’s way better than talking to flowers in real life.
*You’ll know if it’s a Nega-wizard if they don’t have an evil goatee or beard or at least bushy waggly eyebrows. Nega-wizards are mostly hairless.
*You’ll know if it’s a Nega-wizard if they don’t have an evil goatee or beard or at least bushy waggly eyebrows. Nega-wizards are mostly hairless.
**He says after posting a video where he gets confused by some of the puzzles. In my defense I stream late at night and I was tired.***
MagiCat from Toge Productions is simply an incredibly solid two-dimensional platformer. That sounds like faint praise, but I swear that it really isn’t. It’s the product of a single person studio and is really a remarkable piece of game craft. Everything about it is just well made. Which is our theme for today. Just straight up quality games. No nonsense.
The graphics in MagiCat are super cute. You’re a cat in a wizard hat for crying out loud.* How can you not love that? You spit hairballs at slimes. Magic hairballs. So cute. Just good pixel art all around. The bulk of the enemies are palette swaps of of couple basic forms, but I don’t hate that. The basic forms are well executed (cute slime & cute bat being the most common) and the pallet tells the player exactly what they are in for. Each level is unique and colorful with clearly defined goals. None of the graphics are things that you haven’t seen before, they’re just done really well.
Part of the charm of MagiCat lies in it’s simple yet elegant structure. Each level in MagiCat consists of three platforming sections and then a boss. In every platforming section there is a bonus red gem you can collect if you are so inclined which allows for some added elective challenge. At some point you’ll want to cash in those gems for special abilities (they are MagiCat’s currency), but I really like how they’re structured so a player can choose their own difficulty.
Each level has it’s own mechanic. Maybe one is rolling platforms. Another might be switch blocks. Another would be a shrinking mechanic. I liked how focused this made every level. The player has to understand the mechanic to complete the level, but if they want to get all the red crystals they need to master it. Again, this is another example of MagiCat’s design ethos. Seemingly simply well constructed levels that allow the player to learn at their own pace.
At the end of each level you fight a boss which is usually a larger version of a level enemy and incorporates the level mechanic. I found these a bit of a mixed bag. Some were really trivial and some were super difficult. But there were a lot of them that I thought were extraordinarily clever. They felt like cool tests of the level mechanic. I’m not a big boss battle fan, but the bosses I liked in MagiCat I really liked.
I’m not really sure what else to say about MagiCat. The controls feel good, the graphics are cute and fun, and the level design is top notch. It’s not a revolutionary game by any means, but I don’t think it needs to be. It’s really fun to play, and I think other developers could learn a bit by checking it out. I think you should play it our I will cough a hairball at you so hard.
*Notably this means that MagiCat passes the Wizard Test with flying colors. All games should have wizards in them.
Back in the 8 and 16-bit eras there were a whole bunch of terrible jank-ass games based on the hot movies of the time. They were pretty much all terrible. Made with no doubt limited budgets and seriously limited time frames they were generally just cheap-skate cruddy platformers. Occasionally though, there were the outlines of good ideas in these games mired in the half-assed execution.
One such game was Home Alone, based on the hit movie starring that kid we all liked for a brief minute and Donald Trump. It was developed by some jank-ass little no-name studio from Maryland, and was a jank-ass garbage game. However, the game had some good ideas that I always thought would be worth stealing by an indie dev sometime in the future. The innovative part of Home Alone was that it was a trap setting game. You had to maneuver little Donny around a house and set traps for the crooks so they didn’t brutally murder you. The execution was jank and ass, but the idea was sound and worth developing.
Samurai Punk has developed that idea into Roombo: First Blood. Created for a Game Jam, you control a brave little Roomba as you defend the home of your owners from a stream of crooks. You do this with the power of Bluetooth! You’re connected to other systems in the house and can use them to stop the thieves. Drop a ceiling fan on their heads! Blow up an electrical socket and electrocute them! Blow up some windows in their vicinity! Do all the things at once! Make them bleed! Hoover up enough blood and you can just charge at them and kill them that way. Then you have to dispose of their corpses and clean up.
You control your blood-thirsty roomba with WASD tank controls and activate household appliances by clicking on them with yer trusty mouse. There are six levels with a corresponding number of criminals in each. I found the difficulty curve to be in a real sweet spot. In the early levels I was simply amused and allowed to wander around and try things without too much worry that the crooks would destroy me. The middle levels were the hardest as I was forced to really learn which traps were the most effective and which escape routes worked best when they came for me. I died a lot. However, I persevered, and once I got to the later levels I felt like a bad ass. Killing off five or six crooks at a time made me feel really good about myself. Just… so much blood. Everywhere. So, kudos to Samurai Punk for laying out a really good and satisfying difficulty curve.
It’s not a perfect game by any means. It’s a small scale Game Jam game at its core, so it’s limited in scope. The controls felt a bit unresponsive to me at times, and there’s only one home layout with six levels. I played through it in just over an hour, and wasn’t really feeling the urge to go back and master it. But that’s okay. Not everything has to be a jank-ass mega game like Skyrim. You do get maybe the best reward I ever seen when you complete all six levels. You unlock a gallery of pictures of buff sexy roombos. It’s amazing. I’m glad I have those in my life now.
And hey, here’s the inaugural Burpy Fresh Happy Fun Time Stream Hour with your host Curtis the Inverted. Tuesdays late night, after Leno.