Life is a series of choices. What to do, where to go, how to act, and so on. Some choose to live in the moment, focusing on their pursuits with reckless abandon. Others live for those around them, eager to help in whatever way they can. Regardless, everyone is their own person. It’s easy to look back on a series of events and think, “What if?” For instance, what if you had turned down that job offer? Then again, suppose you were dead broke and days away from ending up on the street. Suddenly, that job offer doesn’t seem like a choice. You may know of some potential repercussions; you may not. The decision remains the same, because, regardless of what hindsight may later tell you, it seems like the only option at the time. Such is the case with Last Day of June, a story-driven title that feels like a puzzle game version of Groundhog Day meets The Butterfly Effect.
Pulling off good horror with pixel art is difficult. Titles like Lone Survivor come to mind as somewhat recent examples of pixelated horror done right, but such games are far from the household names that Outlast, Amnesia, and even Slender have become. Part of the reason for that may be that it’s difficult to properly set up jump scares when playing from what is generally a pulled-out, third-person view; giving the player so much vision can undercut the effectiveness of such surprises. To combat this, many “bit horror” games choose the same tactic chosen by The Count Lucanor: the horror comes from the imagery and circumstances rather than their sudden presentation.
So many games focus on conflict. Light versus dark. Good versus evil. Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion, though, takes a different approach, with the nameless protagonist working towards the unification of the yin and the yang. For too long, the two have been separated, but it is time for them to be reunited once more.
Video games have explored countless horror film tropes over the years: abandoned hospitals, possessed toys, and ghoulish monsters, just to name a few. Such games have, for the most part, taken themselves completely seriously, sometimes to their detriment. There’s been a drought of games that capture the spirit of schlocky, B-movie slasher films like The Evil Dead and Grindhouse. Slayaway Camp aims to fill this void with an interesting combination: the typically fast-paced thrills of the genre mixed with the methodical pacing of a puzzle game.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” is a quote that appeared on my new browser tab this evening. In a way, it’s appropriate. Here I am at 10 PM, realizing that I have no games ready to review, and homework that I should really be working on instead of fixing that. The insanity of the last week has left me feeling at loose ends this weekend, despite knowing full well that I have work to do. Maybe it’s warranted, though. Multiple 1-2 AM nights, one 3:30 AM night (is it even considered night at that point?), and probably something like five litres of hot chocolate. Thinking back, I barely know where half the time went. There were frustrating university assignments, final classes that seemed to last for an eternity, and the joys of crunch time on a video game development project. Yet it’s all just a blur.
On the other hand, I feel motivated. I know that I’ll never truly stop being busy, yet it seems like the worst may be over for the time being. Coming out of last week, I’ve realized that, aside from three exams and presenting the aforementioned video game, I have very little on my plate, at least from a school standpoint. In its place is something that I find far more exciting.
As a storytelling medium, video games are something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, their interactive nature has the ability to create far more visceral and engaging experiences for players. However, this also brings with it some inherent drawbacks. Budgets need to be allocated not just to production design, but also to programming, QA, and more. Bugs and glitches may spontaneously occur, sucking up massive amounts of time and energy. I bring up this comparison, because Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons stands as a prime example of both. It is hampered in many areas by the restrictions of the medium, with bugs, technical problems, and gameplay issues taking me out of the experience on a number of occasions. Despite this, it manages to feel like a near-perfect pairing of story and gameplay, where each is able to complement and enhance the other.
Generally, when one game adapts ideas from another, it will expand on them. It will add variations and extra wrinkles to the gameplay that were impossible when the original game came out. Sometimes, it will even throw in entirely new ideas that profoundly change the way the core mechanics work. I therefore find it interesting to see a game like Refunct, which seems to draw inspiration from an assortment of free-running games, but particularly Mirror’s Edge. Now, Mirror’s Edge is a game that I played through quite a while ago, but I remember that some of my biggest problems with it were just how big it was. The levels were large and complex, often requiring complex sequences of actions to traverse effectively. There was a lengthy story mode, which meant that some missions felt padded with unnecessary combat sections and other irritating set pieces. It was a good game at its core, but there was just too much of it. Then there’s Refunct, which strips away all the complexity and leaves only the bare necessities. While this scaled-back approach may seem counterproductive at first, I feel that it actually elevates Refunct to be a far more enjoyable experience.
Appearances can be deceiving, and this is certainly the case with So Many Me. Despite its cartoonish appearance and cast of cute and cuddly characters, what lies beneath the surface is a truly difficult, occasionally maddening puzzle-platformer. As an adorable green jelly blob named Filo, you suddenly find yourself in a world requiring saving; you know how these things go. Luckily, he quickly comes across a small green egg that hatches into a duplicate of him. Discovering that the clone mimics his every move, Filo sets out on his journey, discovering new clones (the “Me”), interesting powers, and an assortment of enemies along the way.
Where does one start with a game like The Architect? In all honesty, sitting down to write this review is just giving me traumatic flashbacks to the displeasure that was this game. I wish I had something witty or insightful to say about it, but nothing’s really coming to mind. The music’s okay…I guess? At least, it would be, if there was more than a handful of compositions available. What I’m trying to say is that this could get messy. The unfortunate thing is that this is my first time doing an “official” review, where I was actually provided a key by someone promoting the game. If this is a sign of things to come…oh boy.
After a long, tiring day, sometimes it’s nice to sit down with something simple; something that doesn’t involve lots of complicated mechanics.
Luckily, a number of these games have emerged over the last few years, many of them cropping up in the mobile space.
Looking at the vast catalog of such games, it is clear that one of the more common types is that of the endless runner, and it’s in this genre that Pony Island finds itself.
Minimalism is a popular concept in video games. One of the most commonly-used forms is in minimalistic art styles; many indie games in particular often opt for a clean, simple look to make their user interfaces and gameplay screens uncluttered and easy to understand. However, minimalism can also be applied to other aspects of a game, such as the narrative or even the gameplay mechanics. In some cases, this can lead to phenomenal results. Take the various games that Telltale has made over the last few years; the player’s opportunities for interaction are typically limited to following button prompts, yet the rich narrative carries the experience. Instead of picking and choosing, though, Antenna opts for minimalism in basically every aspect. That’s not to say that it feels cheap or cobbled together; this is not some shovelware that was just thrown up on Steam Greenlight one day and left to die. However, there’s also very little to grasp onto when it comes to doing a proper analysis of it.
The video gaming industry can be a fascinating place full of continuously changing focuses. Case in point: Volume, a dystopian-themed sneak-‘em-up, comes courtesy of a studio whose last game was a platformer whose emotional story was told through an assortment of colourful rectangles. I think it’s safe to say that there’s a bit of a shift present; iterative follow-up project, this is not. However, that’s by no means a bad thing, and Volume serves as an excellent example of how trying new things can yield thoroughly impressive results.