Categories
Interviews Video Games

Indie Game Week (10/05/2021)

Indie games are awesome. Games made by a group of fifty people, or a dozen, or five, or a single person that wanted to bring a creative vision into reality with the resources they had. Art that, for several reasons, couldn’t be made by a multibillion-dollar company, at least today. That’s what this column is supposed to be: A celebration of all those projects made by people that, on their own, went and did whatever they wanted. We’re gonna be telling you in a monthly format about any games not made by an AAA company, to shed some light on those projects, gush about them, and maybe even to help you find a new favorite game!

Luke:

Tails of Iron – $24.99 on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Tails of Iron is the video game adaptation of the old Redwall book series. Or at least, that’s what I assume because the main character is a mouse guy, and it’s a high fantasy world. I’ve never actually read Redwall. Tails of Iron does not have complex mechanics. Most quests feel like fetch quests, or “clear out this area” which really amounts to fetch quests. The combat doesn’t feel as fantastic as other “Check out our Soulslike combat!” games. All of these things are bad, but I gotta say, I love this game a lot.

The story is so dang good, with all of its little nuances (The characters talk in little chirps, and their intentions are depicted in pictures within the thought/word bubbles) that make this devilishly charming yet abhorrently violent that it’s easy to overlook the flaws. Heck, I’d even say these push the flaws out of flawed territory. I’m doing another fetch quest? That makes sense; the protagonist needs to be on the ground, getting in touch with the people! There’s a base-building mechanic that amounts to…more fetch quests, but hey, I’m gonna fetch real hard because I can’t wait to see the base get built up. The combat is a bit sluggish, but it works within itself, making sure to never jump the shark into “unfairly difficult” territory. It can serve as a nice change of pace from the usual “pixel perfect” combat you find in these sorts of games.

So if my assumption was correct and this is the video game adaptation of Redwall, then dang, I need to read Redwall because this game is just oozing with so much charm and fun that it’s got me not just overlooking the flaws but somehow praising them.

Developed by Odd Bug Studio.

Gabrielle:

Crossing Souls – $14.99 on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, macOS, PlayStation 4, Linux, PlayStation Vita.

Is Crossing Souls revolutionary? Something never seen before? Not really. More of a recollection of a lot of things seen before, actually. But is it fun? You bet it is. Released in early 2018, Crossing Souls tells the story of a group of friends from California involved in a mystery that would change their lives forever. From the aesthetic to the gameplay, it’s an homage to the 80s pop culture (Or the nostalgia for the 80s pop culture) if there ever was one.

First of all, the pixel art aesthetic is beautiful and truly successful at making you nostalgic for the idea of the 80s we all have in mind. Every map is filled with color, detail, and excellent references that just fill you with joy. The gameplay is a beat ‘em up with some platforming here and there, where you get to change between the five friend protagonists, each with their one special ability. They’re not always useful, and besides very specific scenes, you can get through the game using only one or two. But they’re all so endearing that I always found myself randomly changing between them just to see them.

While I said it’s not the most original game out there, it’s the type of media that, while heavily appealing to nostalgia, it’s not something necessary to the enjoyment. It creates a gripping story, entertaining gameplay, exciting exploration, lovely characters, and as a whole, is the damn definition of fun. It has some slight problems, like losing some of the stakes later in the game (Although still capable enough to make me cry at the end). But I would be lying if I said I didn’t think to myself, ‘’I should replay that’’ every time it pops in my mind.

Developed by Fourattic.

We also have guests today! They are two brothers working on an immersive sim aiming to mix the GTA, Deus Ex, and Metal Gear Solid franchises. Here’s our teaser interview for Without Judgement, developed by Wushin Software:

Gabrielle: How did the project begin?

WS: After coming up with a few game concepts and working on them for some time, we realized that we don’t actually enjoy playing/developing those games, so we decided to make one of our “dream games”. Something that we wanted to really play. Something big, with complex mechanics. Something that has so advanced RPG mechanics and A.I that AAA devs wouldn’t want to spend money to develop it. This gives us another reason to work on the game.

Gabrielle: How would you describe the game?

WS: Without Judgment should be thought of as a Miami Vice/Lethal Weapon buddy cop story with a somber tone set in the near future. The story features a lot of adult themes, such as dealing with PTSD and depression, but It won’t be as abstract and dystopian as the Blade Runner movies.

Gabrielle: What are your influences and how are they implemented in the game?

WS: We were inspired by many different movies and video games. The major inspirations for the gameplay were the Metal Gear Solid series, Bethesda RPG-s, PS2 GTA games, and the original Deus Ex. The game’s story is heavily inspired by 80s-90s cinema (everything from Miami Vice to the X-files). But our goal is to keep the game’s plot relatively grounded. We don’t want to make it too dystopic and art-house-like, and we like to give our own twist to every 80s-90s trope.

One interesting example is the Buddy cop dynamic. Almost every time in movies, the main characters are polar opposites to each other, but people in real life are not that idealistic. What if, in a movie, the cops were two broken, disillusioned men who got into a similar life situation for two different reasons.

Gabrielle: How is it for you to develop this project as two indie developers on your own?

WS: It’s not easy, but most worthwhile things are hard to do.

Gabrielle: What are the objectives for the game and what can we expect?

WS: The main objective is going to be solving a murder mystery case, but there will be a lot of side quests and dynamic random encounters that will take you through different sprawling megacities, deserts, and swamps. The map is huge, both in its scale and size. It’s sort of like GTA SA’s map. The game is very open, and there are a lot of characters and factions in the game that you can join/work for so you can really carve your own path, just like in Bethesda games.

The game is also very systematic, different corporations and gangs have rivals, and they often fight with each other in the game’s open world. Every interaction you make with them will have an effect on the gameplay and on the story. The core gameplay loop is heavily inspired by the MGS games. You can use a lot of different gadgets, tools, and skills to achieve your goals. We want to make the game really open-ended.

Categories
Video Games

Indie Game Week (09/08/2021)

Indie games are awesome. Games made by a group of fifty people, or a dozen, or five, or a single person that wanted to bring a creative vision into reality with the resources they had. Art that, for several reasons, couldn’t be made by a multibillion-dollar company, at least today. That’s what this column is supposed to be: A celebration of all those projects made by people that, on their own, went and did whatever they wanted. We’re gonna be telling you in a bi-weekly format our newest discoveries regarding any games not made by an AAA company, to shed some light on those projects, gush about them, and maybe even to help you find a new favorite game!

Gabrielle:

How We Know We’re Alive –  Free with the option for donation on Itch.io.

How We Know We’re Alive is a side-scrolling, pixel-art, mystery game. You play as Sara, a woman who returns to her hometown after 10 years of leaving and a lifetime of hating the place to mourn the death of her once best friend. It’s an easy game to play. You only move left or right, talk to some people, maybe enter some buildings, all with as little as four keys to press. But it’s far from an easy game to experience. You walk the streets from your hometown under nonstop rain and realize a lot of the people you once knew are still there, and they still work where they used to, still go to church, still shop at the same place. Change is hard, but when things are similar enough to bring the past back, you may just feel trapped by them again. HWKWA doesn’t try to get away with easy answers, and I’m glad it doesn’t because none of the themes it works with have them. Sometimes you just have to move on in any way you can in order to not get stuck.

Created and directed by August Håkansson, art and animation by Leo Köhler & August Håkansson, written by Imogen West-Knights & August Håkansson, with an original soundtrack by Ivan Starenius.

Adriatic Pizza – $4.99 USD or more on Itch.io and Steam. 

This is another pixel-art, but now a first-person exploration and cooking game, heavily inspired by the animated movie by Studio Ghibli, Porco Rosso. You’re a soldier just returning home from war, decided to help your mother with her pizza delivery business in an idyllic archipelago. As soon as you wake up each day, you take orders from a radio in your room and mark them on your map to avoid getting lost. You make the pizzas from your family recipe book, and finally, you’re free to travel across the ocean and little islands with your plane (You can technically take off any moment you want, but you wouldn’t want to let your neighbors down, would you?).

Flying for the first time, with the relaxing music singing in your ears and the beautiful landscape with a very unique color palette, is truly a sight to behold. Easily one of the most relaxing experiences I had playing video games, and while not really adapting even the aesthetic, I think it captures the Ghibli vibes everyone loves. But of course, delivering pizzas is not the only thing you can do. You get to interact and help the citizens of this little town with tasks they assign you and even build the restaurant of your mother’s dreams! If you’re a Ghibli fan or a fan of this kind of relaxing game, I couldn’t recommend this enough!

Created by Samson Auroux.

Lake – $19.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Series S, and X.

I kept an eye out for Lake for a long time. I remember finding a teaser on Twitter and being absolutely charmed by it. Now, after the release of the game just a couple of days ago, I must say: It’s everything I wanted out of it, and more. In this game, you take the role of Meredith, a successful woman in her forties who takes on her father’s work as a mailperson, both as a favor to him and to herself.

So, of course, you deliver the mail across an 80s little quiet town. But you don’t get to do just that, no. You can actively choose to talk with a set of colorful characters with their own quirks and stories. Not only you can make small talk, but you’re able to become an actual important part of the town and the people you interact with. You can help them with simple tasks that relate to your work, like accepting some unprompted delivery or doing something completely different, like help them fight a corporation that wants to destroy the woods. I won’t spoil anything, but the characters you meet, be that new people in Meredith’s life or an old friend you’re reunited with, are full of charm. Every time I talked to them and made plans to watch a movie or something, I was genuinely happy.

Lake is a game that feels magical in its ordinariness. It invites you to do the same as its protagonist, and take a break, contemplate on things, and try to have a good time.

Developed by Gamious.

Luke:

So after writing through the Dreamscaper blurb and looking for the next two games to write about, it dawned on me that a lot of, if not all, of the indie games I’ve been playing recently, are mostly just riffs on pre-existing and largely successful games. These games definitely stand on the shoulders of giants, but I sincerely believe that all three of them are capable of standing on their own two feet and pushing their respective genres forward, whether through the introduction of new and interesting concepts or fun-to-learn but hard-to-master mechanics.

Dreamscaper – $24.99 on Nintendo Switch and PC.

Dreamscaper is one of those games that makes me take a pause, say out loud, “This is art”, and just appreciate the experience as a whole. It has drawn lots of comparisons to Hades, and I think appropriately so, which is a raving review in and of itself. It is incredibly similar yet distinctive enough to stand on its own two feet. Ironically, with Hades, it was the gameplay that kept pulling me in, but Dreamscaper has woven such a beautiful story with human characters that I find myself being more invested in the between-runs portion of the game rather than the combat sections themselves. It tells a story of a woman who has recently moved to a new town and has to maneuver those waters, and as the world opens up, you discover more and more about her, and there is a lot to discover. Even the names of the buffs unlocked between runs add to the story and the emotional depth present within the game. As for the combat itself, it’s very mechanical, featuring perfect attacks and parries, multiple melee and ranged weapons, and “lucid attacks” with even more able to be unlocked throughout the game. There is no shortage of replayability and different builds to be explored.

Developed by Afterburner Studios.

Mortal Shell – $29.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Series S, and X.

In my never-ending search to recapture the anxiety and misery of Soulsborne games, I managed to find one that explains even less. However, as with all Soulsbourne and Soulslike games, my key is how well the combat feels, and this combat feels real good. It’s fluid with an interesting and very fulfilling twist to the block mechanic, which is definitely different from the parry mechanic, which is also equally fulfilling. It makes the combat feel a bit more like a dance than Soulsbornes, which I am very partial to. It also adds a twist to the class system, but as I’m very bad at the game (for now) and therefore not far, I’ll withhold judgment on whether or not it’s an interesting twist. Maybe it’s because it’s the first in the series and so it’s all-new, but I find it to be ever so slightly more intricate than Dark Souls, with its non-combat mechanics coupled with it explaining even less, means that I am in a whole new world of needing to git gud and I could not be more excited to do so.

Developed by Cold Symmetry.

Humankind – $49.99 on PC.

Between Civ 5 and Civ 6, I have 1.5k hours logged, so I feel qualified to say that I enjoy Humankind. I will also say that I am not good at these games, and I do not know all the ins and outs, especially to Humankind. But I digress! It’s a 4x game with much the same angle as Civilization, especially coming off the heels of 6’s art direction and city-building rework. You start the game back in the Neolithic era and advance through time into the present/near future, managing your people as they go. Humankind makes some not-so-subtle but not entirely revolutionary changes to some core mechanics, such as founding your Outposts/Cities, building out your Cities, and combat. I, personally, have quite enjoyed these changes, as they’re just enough to freshen up and differentiate this game from Civ, but they’re not requiring me to learn the game from the ground up. Humankind has been a very nice refresher to the genre (my experience with the genre is just Civ 4-6, so I use the word SUPER loosely) and introduces mechanics that I’d be interested in seeing more of moving forward. I guess my ultimate review of Humankind would boil down to, and as is tradition with Civ games, “Can’t wait for some DLC to flesh this stuff out and make the endgame worth playing through” (although now I think about it, Humankind does that much better than any Civ I have played).

Developed by Amplitude Studios.