By Porpentine on September 9th, 2012 at 2:10 pm.
It’s time for Porpentine of Free Indie Games to usher in the indie games we might otherwise have missed. Take it away:
Torn apart by your own heartbeat. You are the armada. Detonation aspirations. Evolutionary platformer. Shattered automaton affection. Aesthetic ant farm.
Lim is an abstract game about something deeply personal yet deeply relevant to our culture, a visceral companion piece to Dys4ia. Conceived in response to the violence and dread and suffocation of being a woman who doesn’t conform to society’s popular image of a woman, Lim provokes questions about the arbitrary nature of visual signifiers and recreates the experience of someone on the receiving end of culturally-mandated aggression.
As you walk through the level, shapes attack you for not sharing their color. Their assault is loud, jarring, and relentless. Go ahead, change colors by holding down Z, afford yourself some respite, just realize that doing so leads to an entirely different kind of unpleasantness. Wordless, forgoing superficial, painted-on symbolism, Lim’s mechanics are the message.
So you get hit and you decide to blend in but it’s too late they keep hitting you anyways and you can barely control your movement and they keep circling and crashing into you exploding static and you have to struggle and mash the keys and slide along the walls just to scrape into the next room and when it’s over you feel like you never want to do that again so you’re going to be really careful about passing in the future, it’s just not worth—ohhhhhh.
The brilliant crux of Lim is seesawing between two undesirable extremes with no true way out. So you compromise. Compromise because it’s easy, compromise because we hate pain and humiliation so we carve away a little bit of ourselves and think, this isn’t so bad, I’ve got some space to breathe now. And hopefully somewhere along the way you realize that they’re willing to let you hack away every part of yourself until nothing remains.
Triple Threat is a two player game where each side starts out controlling three ships and flies them around trying to kill each other. Your ships fire automatically so positioning is everything (think frigates trading broadsides). Obstacles appear in the arena over time, ramping up the near misses and collisions until someone is wiped from the field. Controlling one ship is far easier than guiding three, which means taking damage has a positive side-effect as you shift from fleet to lone starfighter. The gradient of ease of control versus lumbering numbers means you always have a fighting chance, solving one of the central dilemmas of multiplayer games, the boredom of the downward spiral.
The winner of each round gets first pick of upgrades, adding another layer of strategy, drafting style. The reflection upgrade is my favorite, letting me charge aggressively and use my opponent’s shots against them in the kind of playing style shift that a good ability should unleash. Triple Threat is a great multiplayer game with clever design decisions and I look forward to future enhancements.
Soul Jelly is about exploding in exactly the right way. What else can you do, you’re a grotesque suicide bomber in Hell and you work for Satan. The first mission is easy, you blow up a bunch of people. Then infernal bureaucracy kicks in and they want you to avoid hitting people, or hit just one person, or maybe hit a certain combination while collecting diamonds, and that’s where it gets tricky, because you’re a frantic little fellow with a messy blast radius. Gnarled, veiny art and the approval of cute, flag-waving skeletons tops off this slippery, gurgling exploder-puzzler.
The World Hates You
The World Hates You has an important advantage over your run-of-the-mill fiendishly difficult platformer–it learns. “There is no win condition. The purpose of this game is not to be won. The purpose of this game is to get progressively better at killing you.” In other words, TWHY algorithmically evolves to become as difficult as possible while still being technically beatable. Technically. The elements are simple: you can walljump, red stuff kills you, and you touch the blue stuff to beat the level. I also noticed that jumping up and down has a trampoline effect over time. The maliciously hyper-sensitive controls were frustrating at first but after a few deaths I grew to enjoy their leaping, skittish nature.
Broken Robot Love
The central mechanic of Broken Robot Love is pressing X to slow down time, during which you can materialize cubes which you use to navigate a series of increasingly tricky levels–bullet time for the thinking platformer. Complications: spinning sawblades, Portal-esque barriers that fizzle your boxes, rocket turrets, pretty lava, and so much more. Everything feels well-tested and satisfying, elements trickling in bit by bit only to combine in interesting ways. I especially enjoy the levels that use the fact that boxes fade after a few seconds to create timing puzzles. Broken Robot Love has beauty to match its brains, with appropriately lovely and stirring music for a story about a tossed toy returning to its owner along with level architecture composed of vivid purples and greens bubbling with rich, deadly blues and reds.
Cuboid Sandbox is an incredibly attractive little sim about playing God. Your toys are food and cuboids. Cuboids search for food and fight enemy cuboids. They also leave glowing trails of curiousity and hunger in ruby, sapphire, and topaz, depending on their tribe, which makes this much nicer to look at than your average ant farm. The result is a radiant painting, slow fireworks built from warfare and exploration. “Hint 1: Don’t place different species near each other. Hint 2: Place different species near each other” says it all. With a soundtrack of soothing boops and drips, this is an easy game to relax with and indulge certain tyrannic impulses.