THIS WEEK: Rat tyrant dystopia. Curated bone and shadow dimension. ALPACA
Alpaca Run by Samantha Allen, Joseph Culp, Guy Conn, and Cameron Kunzelman
Ingrid the Alpaca leaps over pits and hops from trees to grab apples, gameplay you might have seen in works like Robot Unicorn Attack. But there’s a key difference: Cameron Kunzelman writes, “…there isn’t a fail state in Alpaca Run. I want everyone to complete it. I want everyone to have a fun journey and to get to listen to a cool song without failing over and over again.”
Alpaca Run lets you set your own goals but it won’t hold you to them. You can die less if you want, and it’ll tell you how much you died at the end if you want to track that. But it won’t punish you. You can pick up apples. The reward for getting all the apples is you start flashing fun colors.
And it is a cool song, it will change your life.
Please…run with the alpaca…believe in the alpaca…true dreams never die…
Limits & Demonstrations by Cardboard Computer
A virtual museum exhibit by the fictional artist Lula Chamberlain. Her work is characterized by ambitious, difficult-to-frame installations.
One time I was at a textile museum in Massachusetts and they turned the lights off and I had to crawl around with my cellphone light looking for the exit. The sheep mannequins scattered through the space had a different impact in the dark.
Limits & Demonstrations understands the unreal, utilitarian solitude of a museumscapes’ darker recesses. Slide my perception a degree to the left and I’m in a curated bone and shadow dimension, pale, unworldly artifacts suspended in the dark of an isolated cell of the universe, this hushed, almost sacred space where objects are uplifted from their base constituent parts by some magic of artist prestige and critical consensus. This is what a museum can be.
I went in with no prior knowledge but upon surfacing found it was made by the same team that made Kentucky Route Zero, which I really want to play now.
000000052573743 by Jake Clover
This is my favorite Clover game since Nuign Spectre. It feels like one of the most focused things he’s done, by which I mean I felt like I came away with a complete, pointed experience.
That experience is being one of many identical yellow people standing in a row as a giant twisted rat tyrant screeches incomprehensible orders. At every corner, soldiers with guns.
Understanding what you’re supposed to do is a brutal learning experience. Fail and you get shot. Even after figuring out basic survival, there’s still this cruel, jumpy uncertainty, the kind where you’ll do anything to avoid pain and death–but what if anything isn’t enough?
In contrast to the individualist spirit of most games, you’re a scared, disposable citizen of some nightmare dictatorship, and you’re here to be dehumanized. It’s an intensely interesting flavor to roll around on the tongue, one that we rarely experience.
How many games about dystopias would be improved if you were just a working class drone, not an invincible white male supermurderer armed with ultra-violence augmentations/magic? How can we criticize systems if we only play as two-dimensional hyper-escapist heroes, and not as people actually affected by the violence and injustice so common to many narratives?
Soaring above the streets of yet another megacity, staring voyeuristically at the corpses littering the pavement and the people coughing up blood from nano-plague/rat-plague, salivating over their bodies with sniper rifle scopes and crossbow sights.
We aren’t asked to suffer with them. Maybe we should, if we want to genuinely address the settings of these games. The response, of course, is “Being exceptional drives many narratives.”
Sure! But it’s worth considering how classism/racism/etc subtly influence our definitions of exceptional, and how depictions of healthy systemic resistance are suppressed in favor of silver bullet protagonists who neatly sidestep all political and philosophical questions in favor of destroying evil forever by shooting it in the face.
icefishing v by Nate Gallardo
Icefishing v is a “sound-art exploration game and interactive album” inspired by “music genres such as glitch, noise, ambient, drone and doom…Aphex Twin, Oval, Merzbow, Lustmord, Sunn 0)))…”
I load the game and it tells me the controls. I can “emit”. I’m excited to emit. There’s also something called a Hyper Glitch, and Rhythmic Glitches.
I fall into a black field covered in white spikes. I emit, which sends a bolt of red sound arcing across the world. It bounces off a distant tower. I emit some more. Spikes turn crimson and fly into the air. I try glitching and suddenly I’m in a parallel universe full of whirling ribbons and distorted space.
Above me, uprooted obsidian cities float tantalizingly out of reach, the promise of new planes to explore.
By this point I’m pretty intimidated by the visual noise and alien systems at work here. But despite the chaos, icefishing v is mesmerizingly intuitive. Doing what felt natural saw me through to the end, a feat accomplished without resorting to traditional signifiers.
The final sequences are hellishly gorgeous.
Leaf Me Alone by Mark Foster and David Fenn
Leaf Me Alone is the Ludum Dare 26 jam winner, influenced by “Proteus, Fez, Melodisle, Zelda (Wind Waker) and Final Fantasy”. It’s also a Metroidvania, which sadly doesn’t mean “power armored bounty hunter chasing space vampires through the heart of an alien planet”. The actual meaning is “explorational platformer where finding new abilities grants you access to more areas and if the designer doesn’t know their shit you’ll probably have to do a lot of backtracking over the same area 1 million times”.
The flowers that lift you into the air were a bit unintuitive–to get to the squirrel throne I had to figure out that the lift is cumulative, meaning you need to quickly chain all three flowers to reach the next area.
Besides that, it’s a lovely drift through a peaceful forest (especially considering the narrow timespan of the jam). Leaf Me Alone accesses the fundamental drive behind Metroidvanias (being strong enough to beat things you couldn’t before) without wearing out its welcome, and you get to plant flowers and fly around on leaves!
MONO by timtipgames
Winner of the Ludum Dare 26 comp, MONO is a reflex/puzzle game about guiding a sphere through mazes.
I appreciate the open-ended level selection–you don’t need to unlock them one at a time, you can play any you like. So if it’s too hard or I don’t like the particular style of a level, I can move on, avoiding frustration (a design choice emphasizing that not everyone can or should be expected to enjoy every style of gameplay).
The levels have atmosphere–by which I mean, quality of light and air, they aren’t just flat panes. They feel like boxes glued together with a weird marble rolling around inside.
Snaaaake! by Fernando Ramallo and Miguel Angel Perez Martinez
You’re a giant snake and you’re destroying America! There are randomized power-ups, like giant lasers or freezing time. You can press space to constrict and squeeze stuff in your coils until it pops. There’s pretty much nothing to stop you from squishing and crushing and killing everything!
My favorite part is how well the aesthetic premise is realized–the horrible reptilian rampage is being filmed by a news copter, so your timer is a camera battery, a news ticker scrolls at the bottom, and when you hit a news van, the signal cuts to static for a few seconds.
YOU WERE HALLUCINATING THE WHOLE TIME by Darius Kazemi