Full Disclosure: I really only do this section to try to make myself feel better about my poor life choices.
Project.99 is a monthly revisited collection of experimental games by a number of members of the Out of Index and Seoul Indies crews, as well as other developers in South Korea.
And by experimental… we mean experimental. This is some weird shit yo. Most of it is weird good. Some of it is weird confusing. Some of it is weird, scare the shit right out of you. There’s a platformer that builds levels based on your IP address. There’s a QWOP like game where you compete against other QWOPs that learn from you how to QWOP properly.* There’s a game where you can’t blink or that chick from the ring will come of your monitor and destroy you. There’s even a bomb that you need to set your computer to sleep to deactivate.
All sorts of awesomely weird shit is available, but I’m going to go through some my favourites from their collection so far.
Probably the most easy item to understand as a game would be RP6 by Sun Park from Project.99 – 1702. It’s a 6 button RPG, based on that month’s theme of ZXCVBN. (Sorry M, you suck)
In RP6, you control the adventure of a pixelated warrior. The warrior makes his way across the screen and back in a fixed time, each step leading them to an encounter with a monster, an elixir or a bottle of poison. Elixirs regain HP, poison causes the warrior to lose HP, and battling enemies lowers HP in return for XP which allows you to level up, bringing forth larger monsters etc. Each of the encounters is “controlled” from left to right by the Z X C V B N keys. Pressing either one of those keys will switch out the current encounter with something else at random. Running low on HP? Try to get some elixirs. Need to level up? Get some monsters in there. Poison? Bash that key and hope to glob it turns into something better.
Really, you just need 5 minutes for this game, but it’s pretty fun.
MATH GAM3 is a simple math puzzler. You’re given an answer, and you have to find the correct numbers, and toggle the operators to solve the problem. The trick is, you have to swap out numbers in the equation with those that exist anywhere else on the screen. Any number is fair game, including the solution, the timer, the date… You can technically live forever if you’re good enough! I wish I could do this with my bank statement. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I AM SO FUNNY.
Aesthetically, this one is my absolute favourite. It’s about the passionate romance of two space-eyeballs with tongues for some reason. Each eyeball is controlled from the point of view of the other, which changes from space-eyeball to space-eyeball every 10 seconds or so. Using WASD, get the two balls close enough to each other, and they’ll start mekkin it like there’s no tomorrow. I mean it sounds easy, and I know you want to get them balls a-mekkin, but you really have to be on your game with this one. The controls are finicky, and it’s very very easy to get lost in even this small of an area.
That being said, when you’re out of range of the other eyeball, you’ll get the helpful “Where are you?” message to let you know you’ll be screwed when the camera changes. Luckily, it’s not as difficult as it is for me to find someone to mek with in real life, so I’ve actually spent a bit of time with this one.
There’s like 15 other games, too. Go check them out. They’re on itch.
*They’re facked if they think I’m going to get good enough for me to save them.
First, some mood music. Just let it play while you read this review.*
It’s late night while I’m writing this. I go outside to get some fresh air. I smell cigarette smoke from one of the old men who are always out smoking. The cars drive by one the nearby freeway. A truck honks it’s horn. A bit irritating as late as it is. I can hear the screams of children out running way past when they should be in in bed. I live in a city and it is anything, but quiet. Even at this late hour is full of the stink and noise of other people. How I hate them. This should be a peaceful time, but they intrude on any peace I could have. Should have? The only thing that would be worse is if they weren’t there at all. Everyone else could just give up on what ever their doing and go away. Then I’d be alone. But what would be the point? Without other people around how would I even define my life?
Those are the kind of thoughts that go through my head as a play through Quiet City by Increpare. Perhaps not super deep thoughts, but it’s nice to play something that makes me feel something from time to time. Quiet City is not really game, and more an interactive art piece. You wander around a small city unlocking people doing what people do. Playing. Fighting. Living. Dying. After you unlock everyone you go around a second time and get a bit of dialogue as they go away. It’s really quite sad. Children stop playing. Adults become scared of their own dreams. I even found it sad when the smoking guy quit. That’s your “thing” smoking guy! It defines you. Even moving on from bad habits is a change and change can be scary. Or maybe I just overemphasize with stick figures.
I highly recommend a visit to Increpare’s website. There are ton of great experimental games within. Most are less polished than Quiet City, but many of them share the same combination of surprise and sadness (with a touch of the profane) that make Quiet City work. I’ll have to do a deeper dive into those games when I have more free-time. Just need to keep busy to try to delay my inevitable failure and dissolution for at least one more day.
No matter what you do or how much you enjoy it, you will eventually stop doing it. That’s the lesson here. Play Quiet City! Or just enjoy my full play through below.
*Deceptively difficult piece to perform from an English Horn standpoint. You don’t have any flashy arpeggios or runs to impress the rubes. All you have is your tone. Super exposed. I once played English Horn pretty well. But then I gave up on that dream.
Full Disclosure: I paid for this game like a pleb. You take two months off and the world forgets you even existed. I mean. Because it knew I existed before. Honest.
The ground shook with trepidation as the acrid stench of death and decay creeped closer and closer. No animals remained, they escaped long ago, having wisely chosen life over a few more moments of indentured servitude. The townspeople gathered, scared and confused, not knowing what was to come. Was it a rival war party? Was it a dragon or some other fantastical beast?
No, it’s just my lazy burpy fat ass trying to sit up after summer vacation.
Ahh, twas a good vacation. Sitting on the beach, drinking Mai Tais from an actual glass, watching the world go by. Well, more like sitting on a Canadian beach, drinking Ceasars from a can, watching tourists manage their disappointment, but still, it was a vacation nonetheless.
And now, we’re back. Well, I’m back. @curttheinvert is still away in the motherland, but he will return soon. And now, we’re off on another adventure. Smack, pow, and whatnot.*
Indeed, with Chromosphere Games‘ newly released Royal Cosmonautical Society takes us on a retroesque adventure to the moon and beyond in a floaty platformer visually reminiscent of the arcade version of Asteroids or anything Vectrex, and physically reminiscent of… well… Asteroids but with gravity, and maybe a little like Scumsoft’s Astro Chicken…but like in a goodish way. More on that later.
According to the story, you’re a bunch of space dudes trying to regain your high score on the arcade machine that is the game. In the game, which is set up to look like an old school flickery CRT with glowy vector graphics, you’re a little two-legged big-headed space lander looking dude, that’s fragile as fuck on the top, but surprisingly sturdy if you can get the two legs to hit anything square on. In an “Asteroids with gravity” sort of way, you propel yourself around the map, trying to avoid everything except the landing pad and these glowing stars. Get the stars, get on the pad. Simple, right? I mean maybe if you don’t suck at games. I’m a bit out of practice. (I wasn’t kidding about the booze on the beach. I think it was the beach. It might have been someone’s bathtub. Canada doesn’t have any beach come to think of it. But it was definitely booze. Maybe swish.)
Yeah, it’s one of those ones where you die. A lot. In fact they even have a convenient death counter right on the main menu to remind you of how much of a horrible failure you are every time you load the game. Basically, anything you touch except the stars and the pad will potentially kill you if you touch them with anything but your legs. Even brushing up against them is enough to send you spinning and head first into a wall. Exploding full speed in technocolour ball of pretty lights is pretty fun at first, but I was cursing the screen after about 2 minutes. I kept playing though. Because, Cosmosphere, you ain’t the boss of me.
At the same time though, as difficult as the thruster scheme and level design are, nothing feels unfair. Though most of the game is spent learning how little thrust you can get away with to navigate any obstacle smoothly, it really helps that the controls are very responsive (unlike Astro Chicken). Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still spend a lot of time trying to stabilize yourself (like Astro Chicken), but the level design allows you to take that time to hone your skills before moving on while still presenting a decent difficulty curve. I know this seems basic, but there are so many games out there that just don’t seem to get this knack. Right now I’m up to the second level, and they’ve introduced mines, moving mines and lasers. As frustrating as each item is, they play by their own established rules and I really can’t fault anyone but myself for my horrible games…manship? In the intro videos, you get to pick things up and use it to block the lasers and whatnot, and I’m not sure I’m really ready for that now, but I know I will be by the time I get there.
I like how the level progression works as well. New levels open up when you receive enough glowy orange things, which you receive by finishing levels under a certain time. Most games with this sort of three-star mechanic have larger global thresholds that need to be reached before opening larger areas, but in this case, each and every level has a glowy orange thing requirement for entry. I like this choice, because it’s a subtle way for the game to tell you that you’re shit and you’ll have a bad time if you don’t bone up a little. It might be a little restrictive at times, but it feels like good skill and expectation management to me.
Heh. Bone up.
Oh and not a lot of people are playing now, so it’s easy to get on the scoreboards. Yay 15th place! What whaaaaat!
Anywho, if you’re into physics based floaty challenges I’d consider picking this up. It’s on sale at the moment too.
Full Disclosure: Monseigneur Extrodinaire Dev A.V. gave me a free copy of Bokida to play, review, what have you. Moving up in the world! (I think he got sick of my whinging. Victory is mine!)
Holy crap this one has been a long time coming. I’m aware that games don’t magically pop out of a hat, I mean, not until the mythical Unity 6 comes anyway. (Finally support for hat-popping 2.0 and higher!) But, I’ve been playing demos for this game all over the place for like 2 years, which, frankly speaking, when you have the attention span of a mentally challenged rooster, is several lifetimes plus a few episodes of Wild Kingdom with that super monotone guy.
But, amongst the opposite of gnashing of teeth, Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion is finally out, and we’re finally able to bask in its mostly monochrome glory. As far as I can tell from Chapter 3, Bokida is the story of the Messenger (you) trying to get what appear to be two erm… planets? dudes?, one black (yin) and one white (yang), back together for some hot interplanetary action. You can get them together by completing puzzles that activate what they call touchstones, which each activated touchstone dragging the two ever so slightly closer to the imminent gravitation explosion. Hawt.
As the Messenger, you have basic tools (Build, Cut, Push, and Clean) and a few other tricks up your sleeve.* With Build you can build these blue/green blocks on the landscape, and drag yourself closer to them. With Cut you can chop the blocks into specific shapes, leaving orange debris to fall to the ground (depending on your current gravitational situation), and with Clean you can remove all blocks and debris from the area. These tools don’t just allow you to solve puzzles, they let you get around the world easily as well. Instead of a Yogscast nerdpole, the Bokida Build drag will send you flying towards any block you’ve placed, no matter how high or far away. Stairs are for chumps. You can also build a bridge as you’re walking on it, which is pretty fun, as long as you don’t suddenly move the mouse and end up flinging yourself off into the sky somehow.
With that said, the controls are pretty fluid, and the environment is very forgiving. I was flinging myself all over the place, and only very rarely did I ever get frustrated with not being able to get somewhere after I got the hang of how to Build a block, latch onto it, and then build another one, and repeat.
Overall, I like the feel of the game. I like the voice acting in the cut scenes, they must have spent a lot o that because the person reading has had considerable training. This might not be as apparent if you don’t speak Korean** but trust me, she’s legit. I like how bare the world dressing is, any sort of detail just pops right out at you, even from a distance. I like the puzzles, as well. So far they haven’t been too challenging, but the level design is good, so you can understand what you need to do (even if you don’t know how to do it) readily.
Here’s a stream I did of the first little bit until my computer decided it had had enough of my bullshit. Please use this as only a guide to how the game looks and feels, I am not on point with the narration, as I’m constantly worried about my compy dying and also scalding my fingers. (Early retina MacBooks really, really, reeeally, didn’t have their shit together when it came to temperature regulation, externally at least)
*Do we have sleeves? I mean what is the Messenger?
Yes. Yes, it is. You can go back to watching cat videos now.
Still here? Oh, so you want reasons now. Fine. I’m down to clown. Hacknet, the hacking simulation game, was released a while back, but they just released a new DLC (which we didn’t make it too) and the dev is a super cool dude, so @curttheinvert and I decided to finally take the game for a spin. (Apply foreshadowy music here.)
Hacknet doesn’t look like much. I’m just going to get that out of the way right now, because it has like everything else going for it. It has interesting and challenging puzzles, a rich, in-depth storyline with lots of twist and turns, and most importantly, it doesn’t hold your hand through anything after the first 30 minutes or so. It also makes you feel like a frickin’ badass…
Until you see one tiny bump in the road, or happen to look away from the screen for a second to moisten up your dry cracked hackeresque eyeballs, and promptly forget all of the text commands you need to get through the next crucial phase in the game.
This is where Player Two comes in. Player Two, in this case @curttheinvert, henceforth known as Backseat McHackery, simultaneously acts as a driving force of stability, who, if taking notes, gently informs you of your failed life choices while reminding you that nmap is the network scanning command, while getting out their phone and shouting World Star just to see how you’ll collapse under the pressure of a shaky steadily-growing faux-Soviet-fonted timer.
Damn you @curttheinvert. Damn you straight to hell. And also I love you.
Also, screw that timer font. Yes, I know that I have 30 seconds left, you don’t need to scream it in red. Like who would set up their own computer terminal to put more stress on them in tight situations?
But somewhat more seriously, Hacknet feels like a completely different game in multiplayer, and it’s all for the better. The story is complicated, and while it doesn’t assume you’re an actual hacker (#SUBSEVEN4LIFE), it often tells you how to do something once, and only once. You can have notes open on the side, but these take up system memory (really dude, like 300k of memory just for a basic text file?), which may leave you with not enough memory to finish whatever task you may have at hand. Having another set of hands to write these things down and help remember other important facts is incredibly useful.
It’s also incredibly entertaining to hear to grown men try to keep their calm as they type commands into a little box that keeps warning them that they’re growing closer and closer to some unspecified punishment. I mean, I don’t know what happens when you fuck up in Hacknet, but with ol’ BsMcH screaming “Click the box. No the box! CLICK THE FUCKING BOX OR I WILL DESTROY YOU AND ALL OF YOUR UNBORN CHILDREN!” I don’t ever want to know. It’s a hint of extra realism, that really brings that tension home. It’s kinda like that part of Resident Evil, where you take your character through the L shaped hallway for the second time, and that dog comes through the window and attacks. I remember playing that at like three in the morning at my friend’s place when it came out. His parents were away and we had it up like super loud. Like, look at this video, but picture a bunch of people screaming when the dogs come out.
Okay, things were scarier in the 90s. Sheesh. It was a simpler time. Hacknet did made me feel this same tension though, and moreso when Curtis was in the room glaring down at my disapprovingly as I kept typing porthack as porkhack. I don’t like the idea of having a stress induced heart attack, but if I were to have one, I think this is how I’d like to go.
I wonder if I could just play Hacknet instead of exercising to get the ol’ blood flowing…?
So, yeah. Curtis and I streamed about two hours of footage when he came to visit a while back. OBS was set to turn off every time I pressed the letter P, and hilarity ensued. Man, we’re terrible at streaming. This starts about 5 minutes into the game and continues through for a while. It’s not too terribly screamy, basically because we cut it as we were getting to that point. Haha. Yeah. We’re terrible at screaming.
After we turned it off, we forkbombed our own PC and crashed our server. Hilarity. You should try it, like after you save it.
We’re going to do this again the next time Curtis comes over again, probably after BitSummit. It’s going to be amazing. Go download it.
A lot of harsh words have been said about the three dimensional adventures of everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog. Allow me to add by own lovin’ spoonful to that mountain of smack talk.
Actually, no, I going to… hedge a little bit. I’m actually a qualified fan of the 3D Sonric the Hergehorg games. I am a big fan of the Dreamcast and I payed the heck out of Sonic Adventure and it’s sequel. And the deal with those is that the levels where you actually play as Sonic were super fun.* But they weren’t exactly fun in the way a lot of people wanted a 3D game to be. Rather than the world exploration of Mario 64 or Tomb Raider they were more like rail platformers. In many ways the Sonic levels shared more DNA with the awesome and underrated Panzer Dragoon games than they did with other 3D platformers of the time. They were fun twitch games where you needed to memorize a series of precise timed jumps and turns to get through the level as quickly as possible and make all the pinball styles lights and sounds go off in a pleasing manner. Gotta go fast, as they say.
For the most part***** the levels where you actually played as Sonic remained fun in the 3D iterations of the series. Taken for what they were as basically straight forward arcade style platformers some were even quite good. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations being standouts, and I had a lot of fun with Sonic Lost World last year. Still, they aren’t fun in what many people clearly want a 3D platformer to be. They aren’t exploration games like the Mario and Zelda, and fans really wanted to have the freedom to explore Sonic’s world.
Along comes “SuperSonic68” and some collaborators to make Green Hill Paradise: Act 2, a fan game designed to be a free roaming exploration of the original Green Hill Zone. One thing to keep in mind as I continue with this review is that it is still being developed. This is less a “game” and more of a “tech demo.” That being said it is super fun to play and gets a lot of things right that the officials games have not.
The graphics look really good in GHP:A2. I’d just like to say it awesome that we’ve come so far in games that fan cultures can put out games that look as pretty as some of the AAA titles out there. It’s a faithful recreation of the famous Green Hill Zone from the original Sonic (and many of the later games). All done up in classic checkerboard style with a remix of the original Mastato Nakamura theme music.
The real beauty is being able to look to the horizons. You can see a distant waterfall. I wonder what’s behind it? Let’s run there! Oh, look a path off to the side! Quick! Rush down it see where it goes! And what’s this? The camera actually follows Sonic? And you can control it however you want? MADNESS!******** GHP:A2 for the first time gives the sense that Sonic inhabits a world, and not simply a straight line. It is remarkably freeing, and the number one reason you should try out this game.
As I mentioned before, GHP:A2 is unfinished, more of a demo than a game with set goals. This works in it’s favor here as the player really just has this huge playground to explore and set their own goals. Can I climb up that hill? What’s over there? What are these weird colored switches? Can I break through this wall? It’s good for a few hours of exploration at least, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more levels done up like this just to play around in.
It will be interesting to see if this project takes off in a more game-y direction. I could see GHP:A2 borrowing heavily from the Tony Hawk series by placing a bunch of collectibles and secrets around the level that require a precise series of jumps, grinds, and bounces to get to. I’d pay real money (not just rings) to play a full on game like that.
Here’s the rub, you can see “SuperSonic68” and crew run into the same difficulties that Sonic Team must have run into back in the Dreamcast days and it explains a bit why I think those games were what they were. The first problem is the bugbear that has haunted 3D platformers since the dawn of Tomb Raider: humans can’t see 3D so judging distances is really hard. GHP:A2 has some really irritating sections where it’s hard to make some jumps between platforms. Which is not fun in, y’know, a platforming game. I don’t know how you solve this as it really is a problem in all 3D platformers. Sonic Team dealt with this, I think, with the kludgy “lock-on spin dash” mechanic that they never seemed to get right.
The bigger problem arises from Sonic controlling very loosely. This is not in and of itself a problem. Sonic should be a bit loose. He’s super fast and out of control, man. But part of Sonic games is going through elaborate loop-de-loops and corkscrews and tunnels and a breakneck pace. So, what happens in GHP:A2 if you are a pixel off and not exactly lined up with the obstacle? You shoot off in the wrong direction or worse you stop dead. Sad trombone sound. You can see me get frustrated with this at the end of the live stream.
It’s kind of hard to explain, but the problem is palpable in GHP:A2. The problem is: How can we let people simultaneously freely explore and do precise sick-nasty tricks off our obstacles? I feel like when faced with this problem back when, Sonic Team basically added the rails and bumpers that rub a lot of people the wrong way. They wanted the player to go through the loop-de-loop, grab the rope, and then hit the bumper in a very precise way, so they took away control and made the “right way” the only option.
I’ll be curious to see how the dev’s work through these issues. Sonic Team always had the constraints of budget and time which lead to some of the more unpopular game mechanics. If you gotta ship by the Christmas season you gotta cut some corners, dig? As a fan game GHP:A2 suffers from neither of these limitations. Their constraint is on the devs sanity and time. If the devs get burned out after putting in long hours on a project that they can’t sell, I wouldn’t blame them. I do hope that we’ll see a more polished and full fledged game in the next couple of years. Just remember devs, if you’re strong you can fly. You can reach the other side of the rainbow.
*Mind you, the not-sonic levels were hot garbage. All of Sonic’s friends are dumb.** Especially Big the Cat.*** I’m not going to belabor this point. Okay, maybe a little… I have no idea what Sega was thinking with the world building in these games. So many characters with irritating character traits, terrible controls, and embarrassing voice acting. Sega was trying so hard to be edgy and cool that they kind of missed the point that Sonic is probably actually dorkier than Mario. Anyhow, dissertations have been written on this topic, so I’ll stop.****
**Except for Tails. He’s cool. Knuckles can get straight up lost.
***On that note why was Sega so obsessed with fishing games on the Dreamcast? The first peripheral was a fishing controller. Was the CEO big into bass fishing or something? Sega was so weird.
****OK, one more. What is even with Sonic and his furry friends existing in the same reality as “real” people? With like cars and stuff? That makes no sense! Like Super Mario Bros. with Dennis Hopper as Koopa no sense.
*****Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is an infamous hot mess. Mostly it’s peak WTF Sega from a story perspective****** but the levels would actually be fun to play if they weren’t almost unplayably bug ridden. So, I think it’s not the concept of 3D Sonic at fault here, more the half-assed execution.
******Why, oh why did Sega try to shoe horn these angsty Evangelion influenced plots into a game about a rad hedgehog who fights robots? The bit in Sonic and the Secret Rings where Tails jerks it onto an unconscious Amy Rose was probably the nadir of this nonsense. Who would even want to see that?*******
*******Let’s see what’s on The Internet. Oh, I see. Okay. So, I guess the answer is “lots of people would want to see that. Most of The Internet is that. Okay, fine. You win this round, Internet.”
********Seriously, why is the camera still junk in 3D Sonic Games? Even Sonic Generations is really dodgy when you have to mess with it. It’s 2017. Ain’t no one gots time for bad cameras these days.
Full Disclosure: I’m still a fucking pleb paying full price for games. I mean, intellectually, I know I’ve nothing to deserve free games, but I still feel like I should be getting them somehow? #NorthAmerican #WhiteMale #EvenStillIWantFreeGames
Snakebird is quite possibly the most adorable puzzle game I’ve ever played.* Bright colours, adorable birds that react to the environment around them with such a wide range of expression, and sublime music all come all come together to create a memorable experience that almost masks the sheer frustration and torment you’ll face at every stage as you juggle two to four birds in a graceful and delicate dish spin, only to have everything come crashing down on you with less than a moment’s notice.
Yeah, I couldn’t make it a paragraph just talking about how well polished it looks. This game is crazy hard. To the developers’ credit, it never feels unfair, the difficulty is purely due to your (my) inability to recognize the pattern in a situation. There is a curve, from easy to moderate, to throwing a Molotov while screaming “Hahaha, good luck bastards!” and I seem to have been caught off guard for the last bit.
So yeah… I’m still stuck on level 7… out of like 80, like a year later. Which is kinda why I’m writing about it now. I still like the game. When one of he birds is stuck up against the wall or itself it still makes me smile. Mostly because I want someone or something else to feel the pain that I’ve felt, but also because it’s totes adorbs. Mostly because it’s totes adorbs. Honest. I mean look at this.
See? It’s so cute and also so painfully obvious that ol’ Reddy only has a few seconds of oxygen left to live. Schadenfreude much? Yes. Yes, indeed. Maybe if I could get past level 7, I’d feel better for him/her/it.
And don’t you go thinking that that Undo button is going to help you. It’s fool’s gold. You’re on your own here. It’s you and your raw Snakebird machismo/a.
Right, so mechanics. Snakebird is a game about eating fruit to grow longer, which is both a blessing and a curse. Being longer means it can stretch out further from the land, and it have more room for other Snakebirds to rest and move about, but it also means it has more body to get in the way of junk. Like, in the image above. When you have multiple birds, it means you can use them to crawl all up and over each other’s mix, slowly boosting each other to victory.
Sounds simple right? You try it. You see if you can get past level 7 in like less than an hour. And if you can, you come here and message me, and make me feel bad, and make me have to play it more so I get a divorce and lose custody of my 18 nonexistent kids. Great. Glad we’ve established that you’re a dick and my love life is in shambles.
Uh… what was I on about? Snakebird is good. Go play it. Yeah. That’s all.
Morphblade is a slick little casual puzzle game from the good folks (folk?) over at Suspicious Developments. You navigate around a hexagonal grid of symbols smashing bugs (or maybe spaceships? Space bugs?). Each symbol has a different ability:
Hammer = smashed bugs in front of you
Blade = kills bugs on the sides of you
Acid = removes shields from big bugs
Heal = heals (you can take two hits before death)
Teleport = teleport to anywhere on the board
Arrow = move two spaces squishing intervening bugs
Every time you defeat a wave of bugs you are allowed to expand your hexagonal playing field. The bugs get increasingly nasty; eventually spawning with armor or guns, Some bugs will even blow up tiles upon their deaths. Good times.
The advanced mechanic is that you can upgrade each square if you use it six times (six bugs hammers, six times healed, etc.). You can upgrade that space with the ability of one of the other symbols it touches. For example, you can upgrade the Hammer with Teleport so that you can use that space as a Teleport in a pinch. It allows for tons of combinations from a simple starting point.
The complexity grown from simplicity is what makes Morphblade an archetypal Indie Game. A good Indie Game is one that takes a singular mechanic and milks it for all it’s worth. You can only move in limited directions and each new tile you unlock gives you a very discreet tactical choice. Morphbalde is an excellent example of this design philosophy as you try to figure out the best combination of abilities to defeat the never ending annoying bugs.
However, here’s the thing about Morphblade. Real talk. This would probably be better as a mobile game. It’s a fun game, but each iteration only lasts a few minutes. It has a lot in common with games like 2048 or Super Hexagon. Engrossing and super addictive, just not something I’m likely to load up on Steam everyday, y’know? Like, I don’t need to be in my wiz-lab sitting in my wiz-chair in front of my wiz-computer to play Morphblade. I could see myself getting way into this waiting for the wiz-bus or taking care of my wiz-biz on my wiz-bog.
The stream is really short. Morphblade didn’t really play nice with Twitch for whatever reason.I swear on the bejeweled robe of Sif Muna, that I’ll figure out the technical issues one of these days and actually do a good stream.
Nifflas is an OG indie game designer. Indie games really began to take off in the early to mid 2000s as development tools became easier to access and a generation raised on the 8 & 16 styles of the 80s and 90s emerged both as creators and consumers. Some of the games I remember fondly from that indie heyday were Nifflas’s Within a Deep Forest and Knytt. Two low-key Metroidvanias that are still fun to play. Go check them out. They are free. Free is a good price.
Anyway, I was super stoked when a new game from Nifflas showed up. Enter Uurnog. I ain’t know what an ‘uurnog’ is, but it probably involves throwing bombs at cats and stealing birds. Let me ‘splain.
Uurnog is a 2D exploration platformer. Your avatar is dumped into a cave system where they can pick up and interact with all the elements of the scenery Super Mario 2 style. Pick up blocks and build platforms to reach higher heights! Pick up weapons or bombs to blow through the scenery! Use some of the creepy talking blocks to scare other talking blocks! There are some critters and robots you can pick up to get past certain puzzle areas.
The basic gameplay evolves from a hub world that begins with a bunch of locked doors. As you explore you find keys that let you explore more areas of the cave system. There are many puzzles to sort out in order to fully explore each area. The cool part is that most puzzles have multiple solutions depending on which items you have. You can use bombs, guns, critters, and blocks in all sorts of combinations to get through the caves. If you die or get stuck you get sent back to the hub world without your money while the puzzles reset.
Hilariously the hub room remains is the one room that doesn’t reset. All the crap you transport there? It stays there. Your hub room will look like my wizard lab after a while. Full of explosive chemicals, rare gems, and monstrosities just strewn everywhere.* You can end up in funny situations where you accidentally transport a bomb back to the hub and it blows up stuff you were saving. Hilarious.
Also hilarious are the AI players. The town level and some of the caverns are populated by other ‘players’ who appear to have randomly designed looks and are carrying random items. They act like totally chaotic goofballs. They will steal your items, mess up your constructs, and try to kill you. They can be so Troll-tastic, it seems remarkably like playing with actual real people. Hilarious.
The music is good times. It consists of chiptunes that can change depending on how you interact with the environment. Certain critters can change the tempo and pitch of the tune. Beats can be added when you fire a weapon. And the Jams are straight up solid in their own right. It’s a really fun addition to an already fun game. More games should experiment with this in my humble opinion.
My only minor complaint, I feel like a Uurnog might be too complicated/clever for it’s own good. The world is a massive puzzle with tons of stuff to do and explore, but it just doesn’t feel as tight as some other indie Metroidvanias. A couple times I got through a series of challenges with little idea of how I actually accomplished it. Were those blocks supposed to fall that way? Or did I hit a weird glitch? Could I replicate this if I tried again. Freedom of movement I enjoy. Confusion I don’t. At any rate, I didn’t find this to be a significant barrier to enjoying the game. This game is good. Play it.
*There is a reason for this.** If adventurers ever violate your sanctum they’ll have to waste hella time searching through your crap to find anything useful. More time searching means more rolls on the random encounter table. And let me tell you: you don’t want to mess with the random encounters in my tower. I put some filthy unfair nonsense on there. I’m talking rust monsters, yo. I don’t even care.
**Well, other than that the owlbear ate my entire maid service.
Full Disclosure: As seems to be a trend these days, I bought this game like the rest of the plebs. WTF man. Where has all my game street cred gone?
Forma.8 is the newest release from the somewhat-unreassuringly-named Mixed Bag Games, out a few weeks ago on Steam, but earlier on other platforms. It’s a highly metroidvanic joint, with oodles of physical puzzles, and psychological terrors to deal with. You’re this little black blobbed floaty Samus-like, which I’ma call Smookles. Poor Smookles, praying to what gods may exist, is one of many little black blobby bits shot out of the front of this gun-looking ship towards an unknown planet. Smookles lands and starts its journey in an earth-toned shadowy room with only one exit (for now, I guess).
The game initially feels like Metroid. There are puzzles you have to float through. You need certain power-ups in certain places to advance. There is a lot of area to explore. The biggest difference would that Smookles does not feel the effects of gravity. The controls felt really… for lack of a better word… floaty, but after I got used to how Smookles bobs around they felt pretty good. I will say I did notice I was really pressing on the d-pad harder trying to push the little dude faster (to no avail of course), which was kind of annoying. That could be because I was using PS2 controllers with it too though.
Controllers are expensive.
The graphics are simple, but are really nice to look at. While most of the characters and enemies are mostly solid black with glowing dots on them, the backgrounds are grainy textured oranges, reds, and browns that create an idea of a dark deep descent without actually blacking out the screen. I particularly liked the menu screen, not just because you can operate it and play the game at the same time, but because of how it “powers up.” The image below doesn’t really do it justice, but it kinda reminded me of turning on and off an old CRT screen. So satisfying.
I don’t really have an idea of what the greater picture of Forma.8 encompasses yet, but it seems to be bigger than just Smookles. You meet Smookles’ dead friends along the way, and they give you power ups to help you survive longer on the planet. The power ups and items are a mixed bag. So far they’re all pretty cool, but sometimes the level design is very reminiscent of a Skyrim dungeon in that at the start of some levels you can see what if effectively the equivalent of the famous exit only barred door. While I understand it’s important to have power ups that let you overcome certain situations, I’d like to see more games stretch beyond this type level design. Is there an alternative to this that doesn’t involve excessive backtracking or warping? I guess that’s the question we all have to think about.
I’m nitpicking. It’s good. I’m gonna play it some more.