THIS WEEK: Level 9 eyebrows. Homeopathic potions. Epistolary Twine. VOLCANO OF BEES.
Porpentine’s at the Allied Media Conference, so this week you get me, Noyb. Let’s get to it.
Terror Cave by Chuchino
You begin in an empty room. A cursor chases you, begins to lay down square platforms at a steady beat. You juke left, juke right, climbing and dodging through an increasingly constricted space. The way you move determines the way the cursor moves, determines the level’s layout. There’s no one to blame but yourself when the cursor finally plops a tile right on top of you.
Spike mode ups the ante by adopting the central mechanic from Cactus Block, which you may remember from a previous column. Every tile the cursor lays now has an equal chance of being either a solid block or a deadly spike. Now nothing is certain, and you must react on the fly to limit the influence of bad luck.
There may be even more modes, locked behind a door requiring a level of mastery I have yet to attain.
King of Bees in Fantasy Land by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
Pick an old manshooter at random and you’re likely to find an unreliable narrator, the kind which strips nuance away in order to justify a game where an entire people, nation, planet is uniformly EVIL and must be EXTERMINATED to bring PEACE to the land.
Soundodger by OneMrBean
Crafted with love for both bullet hell games and musical structure. Waves of bullets develop a vocabulary within each song, picking out salient features to translate into quick drum hits, thick chord clusters, spiraling arpeggio strands. Repeated motifs in the song emerge as patterns to dodge. A visual record player metaphor extends to game’s treatment of time. For a more coherent analysis, see Nathan’s Wot I Think.
Michael Tucker’s Eyebrow Quest by Marek Kapolka
Fuck combat mechanics. The RPG-styled world of Michael Tucker’s Eyebrow Quest values appropriate facial expressions above all else.
Controlling each eyebrow individually, you begin the game with limited ability to move and rotate your hairy temple guards. But a raised eyebrow here, a look of concern there, a regimen of waggling during your free time will soon level up your empathetic abilities to unprecedented heights.
Hipnopotamus by Artūrs Grebstelis
A game of interstellar choreography. Hypnotic bullet patterns guide you and a friend (do grab a second person for this and not your other hand) through dance moves that naturally conjoin and separate the two ships. Each player eats and avoids a disjoint set of bullets, creating situations where you must rely on each other to carve a safe path for you both to take.
Like Artūrs’ previous game series Psychedelics, Hipnopotamus thrives on a sense of continuous flow. Player error never brings the game to a halt with explosions or discordant screeches. The dance goes on, waiting for you to jump right back in until you both get it right enough to see the next pattern.
A Dark Room by Doublespeak Games
A Dark Room takes direct inspiration from Candy Box. The game starts in a dark room and gradually fills in the world outside that room through the player’s exploration of each new system it introduces.
Unlike my experience with Candy Box, it eventually makes the initial act of waiting less integral to the game, establishing an economy that churns at a steady clip while still allowing you room to tweak, experiment, and progress elsewhere.
To my Grandma by Kim Delicious
“They’re in a better place.” “You’ll see them again someday.” While well-intentioned, these words don’t easily soothe those bereaved who do not believe in an afterlife, who must cope with the knowledge that their time with a loved one is unequivocally at an end.
To my Grandma is an online memorial of happy moments and regrets, guilt and earnest appreciation. Lyrics from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” float at the bottom of each page, flat and hyperlink-free, easy to tune out as you explore each preserved memory.
Amulets & Armor by Lysle Shields, David Webster, and United Software Artists
Deep in a fantasy library, the sun is setting and it’s getting hard to see. So I eat a few carrots to help out my weak, paladin eyes. Druids line the walls of the flooded room ahead. A trap. I throw a few fireballs ahead of me, magic I technically haven’t learned yet but instead discovered by playing with the arbitrary combinatorics of the game’s rune system. The druids respond with a barrage of poison. I retreat, fiddling with my inventory system in real time, downing unmarked potion after potion trying to find an antidote. A colorless, transparent elixir does nothing but quench my thirst. Water. Cute. Not what I need.
Amulets & Armor is an action-focused first person role playing DOS game made in the Doom engine. It was originally released to dismal sales in 1997 as a commercial game but was recently made freeware by the original developers, who never ceded rights to any publisher.
It’s absurd, ambitious, more than a little clunky. The entire game can be played cooperatively with a friend. You can choose from among eleven character classes, all of them men. The only penalty for death is the loss of a little money, and the time it takes to return to your corpse to recover and reequip your items, assuming you didn’t fall into a trap that left your body inaccessible. Controls sprawl across the keyboard and mouse-driven screens, a rune system difficult to use in the heat of combat on laptops without numpads. Still, get past the initial learning curve and you might find something with legs.
letters from my father by David Goldfarb
When you cut someone out of your life, they don’t stop existing. A call you let through to voicemail. An email that breaks months of silence. Unexpected, innocuous updates that can nonetheless ruin your day because of who made them and what memories they dredge up.
The narrative tension here is that the player character would be much happier ignoring these letters, but they’re also the only way for the player to gain insight into the characters’ lives. Curiosity gets the better of you and you read them, though you know you shouldn’t.
Dog of Dracula 2: Cyber Monogatari by Team Batsu
Since the last game Cid is back on the sauce (ketchup, ponzu, whatever he can find) and growing more distant from his roommate, Dracula’s old pet dog, while their world has taken a turn for the cyberpunk.