Like everyone, I suspect, I’m still rejigging! A big part of the fun for me is just working out what best goes where. Being optimistic and going for ALL the categories. Here’s hoping I find myself with enough time after my degree!
Group 5 - PILE OF SHAME - You can finish it in one day - Refunct
Forget a day, with its massive potential for speedrun optimisation, this can be over in a standard thirty or as little as two minutes! Two minutes of red floor-button pressing to activate dormant underwater platforms and compulsively converting every platform you land on from a flat grey to a lifeful green.
And… it feels better to play than it has any right to. In part, because the presentation is this simple but gorgeous all the same Unity affair with complementary music to put you in repose, but also because we’re so starved for Mirror’s Edge-esque first-person platformers that it helps fill the void in a mostly satisfying way.
As far as parkour’s influence goes, we’re only talking simple vaulting, sliding and ‘Tic Tac’ moves (or as I would say, bouncing off a wall.). Then you have pipes, spring platforms, etc, to keep things interesting. This, particularly the wall-bouncing, is enough to form this vast skill gap chasm, wherein the ultimate goal is to hit the under four-minute mark. In this way, you have the initial exploratory experience of converting every platform and finding every optional collectible, and then the speedrunning effort.
I was perhaps hoping for a more spectacular finale! The collectables and their associated achievements are a big fourth wall breaking red herring. In its own way, however, it’s rather sweet.
Group 5 - PILE OF SHAME - Game from 2018 - The Hex
After Pony Island, Daniel Mullins was cemented in my eyes as an essential indie dev to follow. The Hex’s premise and opening start off every strong. Six video game protagonists from every genre corner of the gaming world are huddled in a tavern and the owner gets a call that there will be a murder. It’s a whodoit! Rather than a detective story, you peer into the very mechanically diverse backstories of each character - and therein lies the game’s hook - and perhaps you’ll be afforded some clues along the way! Not that you get to make a decision!
In all veracity, this just wasn’t close to the all-out subversive joy of Pony Island. I think my real issues with it are that, as impressive as its genre-shifting and occasionally really clever presentation may be, often it looks very visually messy and the very simple mechanics for each backstory are simply a slog. Perhaps recognising this, the games frequently finds ways to make it an absolute cakewalk to play. In a way, this only contributes to the grind playing can feel to get to the next revelation. Perhaps I’m making the gameplay sound more offensive than it is - it’s fun! When the gameplay is the meta-subject of the joke (a bit like The Simpsons game wherein you collect ‘Video Game Cliché Moments’ like invisible walls), it just makes the actual play less engaging.
It all wraps up very nicely and there are plenty of standout moments. I’d still recommend this. There’s something to be said for a game that can produce surprises around every corner! But, if you’re anything like me. your mileage may indeed vary!
Group 10 - POPULAR THEMES - Religion or supernatural - Devotion
Review here: Alphadoriest's Review of Devotion | Grouvee
‘Devotion feels like a massive stride forward for psychological indie horror. Whilst still playing by the rules of its contemporaries and falling back on one too many horror genre expectations, it manages to carve out an identity all of its own by exercising its exceptional sense of place and atmosphere and mature, grounded story to make its horror excesses work to an emotional end. I can only leave the experience feeling, myself, a devotee of Red Candle. Surely one of the best devs in the business.’
Given its story involves a Taiwanese cult and metaphorical hauntings, this is an apposite category!
The biggest issue as it stands is that it’s been unavailable since February, and perhaps will remain so. A shame, since this is certainly one of the most inspired offshoots of Amnesia The Dark Descent that I’ve ever played. Taiwanese horror game Devotion vanishes from Steam after angry Chinese gamers find Winnie the Pooh meme - The Verge
Bonus 3 - LIFE - Living in a dystopia - 7th Sector
Review here: Alphadoriest's Review of 7th Sector | Grouvee
‘7th Sector as a sidescroller is quite recognisable, but it’s its employment of variety and subtlety in all facets of its design that make it a welcome surprise. Assuming this is (primarily) the work of a single developer it’s simply an extraordinary achievement and easily comparable to the best in the genre. If you’re willing to weather frustrations of precise timing windows and an imperfect English translation, you’ll be in seventh heaven.’
One of 7th Sector’s real strengths is how it visually sells its futuristic authoritarian city and communicates its story without a single word spoken. It’s not the most original tale and for all it has in common with Limbo and Inside, it’s not nearly as subversive - but with all its sci-fi body-hopping, it is a VERY creative and varied experience. This is a game that will likely slip through the cracks in spite of its big indie-like quality. A shame.
Group 6 - GRAPHIC STYLE - Ugly - My Friend Pedro
Now ‘ugly’ might not exactly sound fair, but the PS1 graphics at times - especially on characters - earned Pedro its less flattering award this time. That said, you need only look at the above clip in one of the more visually vibrant sections to see that as an acrobatic jaunt it’s an absolute riot and packed with style. It’s built for Twitter GIF consumption - right down to the instant uploader. Unfortunately, not so on the Switch, so I had to laboriously make this one.
You might call me a Devolver Devo-lover, so this was always going to be essential. However, compared to similar Devolver-published blood-spillers in Ape Out and Katana Zero, this is by far the most technically, mechanically and narratively unpolished. The texture detail and design of environments can leave a lot to be desired. The latter half of the game strays into platforming puzzles that work against the score attack-focused flow of the earlier levels. The plot moves from fighting the mafia to killing hardcore gamers in the sewers. It’s not a great development. The story also indicates it has some kind of twist in store. In some ways, I appreciate it really doesn’t. After an underwhelming plot point it simply doubles down on being ridiculous. That saves it. At least Pedro is visually delightful - poking out from the side of the screen to be astonished at your combat feats. His dialogue… maybe less so. There’s nothing particularly memorable.
The one thing the game exceeds at is making Hollywood moments playable. You have a generous slo-mo meter that you’ll struggle to run down, you can shoot in two directions at once, you can pirouette to dodge gunfire and time your spin to shoot surrounding enemies, you can throw and shoot a frying pan to ricochet bullets into groups, and perform tricks on a skateboard before kicking it into someone’s face.
The best thing to do is note down your favourite handful of levels conducive to Pedro moments (they’re unhelpfully just numbered on the level select) and grab your fun from those. I will, however, at some point work through them again to try and obtain S-ranks. This relies on maintaining a multiplier based on speed (requiring an intimate knowledge of the levels so as not to slow down) and not dying. I found it more frustrating than fun to attempt thus far.
A variable, but uniquely stylish and acrobatic shooter that definitely has its highs.
Group 4 - PLAYABLE CHARACTER - Real life animal - Ape Out
Review here: Alphadoriest's Review of Ape Out | Grouvee
‘Whilst stressful, gameplay doesn’t get more finely-honed perfected bliss than Ape Out. The combat and dynamic soundtrack are ingeniously married and the presentation oozes style. This will undoubtedly be one of the standout indie games of 2019.’
So this now has a demo!
I think what I like most about Ape Out is that unlike most Hotline-Miami-apers, it’s actually fundamentally an anti-Miami game. The only thing the game would ever paint with a target reticle is the level exit. Enemies are too numerous and deadly to hunt down, so every level is instead a panicked directional dash; the thresher reserved for anyone with the death wish to come within feet of three washing machines worth of muscle.
It eschews, too, the easier option of a curated soundtrack for a dynamic drum solo synaesthetic experience that’s way more complex than it ever lets you realise.
That is a good poster!
Group 6 - GRAPHIC STYLE - With live persons - She Sees Red
Review here: Alphadoriest's Review of She Sees Red | Grouvee
‘As a value proposition, even at its cheaper price point, an intense appreciation of FMV games is a must to equipoise its abruptness. As a fan of the genre myself, She Sees Red is as well shot and satisfying an FMV story as I’ve encountered. Its modest ambition as interactive entertainment won’t bother you whilst you’re fully immersed in its economy shower of intrigue. In She Sees Red I see potential.’
Ugh… ‘a value proposition.’ Games are art, right?
I do like my FMV games. It’s always refreshing to be freed from motion capture or stilted puppet facsimiles and the the digital impersonations of objects in our shared hallucination we call reality. Anything to not have to sit through another crunch-rushed Telltale animation of a face shifting around like emotion subtitles for an alien. Some, like Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, can be mechanically stimulating - liberated from the assumed constrictions that come with no direct control. Others, like Late Shift, can flex the cinematography muscles to simply fulfil the fantasy of a choose-your-own-adventure film.
She Sees Red is the latter, but compared to Late shift, even shorter and with smaller choice-web. Considering its 30 minute runtime, the omission of a scene skip function for quick replays is baffling - or not, if you’re being cynical. It’s just binary choice clicks for good and ill.
It’s easy to be negative, but it’s so darn well shot and the story and acting land their respective tricks, that I played each run-through back to back (going over a lot of the old scenes as I did so) quite happily. It passes my logic test by not having any Telltale-like cause and effect defying rumbles in the universe. Overall, in terms of experimental FMV, it’s decidedly reserved. It’s merely testing its footing whilst being fully wired up with the emergency services on speed dial.
BUT… more of this kind of thing please. The more FMV there is, the more likely someone will hit it out of the park. Until then, do you want to…
65/130! Halfway there, baby!
Going to take me a while to catch up on here. Less playing, more writing. Have a goddamn dissertation to complete in the meantime, though!