“The pilot has full faith in your control of the space station”. Musical murder cubes. THE TOP TEN FUNNEST LORDS.
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Shrug Song by Alina Constantin and Nifflas
Alina Constantin paints a lovely world, a sample of coming work set in the universe of Shrugs. I especially like the transformations (fragmenting into rocks, flowing into plant form, all with a peaceful smile on your face).
Shrugs are shapeshifting creatures who “live in symbiosis with a home seasonally covered by the ocean tides.” This theme of symbiosis is born out by your primary mode of interaction. Instead of acting directly on the environment, you play music. Plants, insects, even rocks respond to your notes, all in different ways.
The goal is convincing other Shrugs to teach you the melodies that will open the stone arch. The audio feedback is particularly excellent on the stone arch and the plant pod where one of the Shrugs is sleeping–a growing radiance of light and sound as you feel your way toward the correct series of notes.
ISIS by Liz England
“You have a crew of one.”
You are ISIS, a space station orbiting the Sun. Inside you lives a sweating little human. They carelessly invoke your massive brain. Their trash flows through your guts. They feed off your energy.
“The pilot…uses his hands to smear sweat, bacteria, and salt into your clean chair.”
Liz England’s writing describes the pilot with such clinical distaste, cultivating a sense of how fragile a thing he is, passing through your airlocks, eating the food you synthesize, breathing your oxygen.
So many things can go wrong.
Space Lord by axcho
Space Invaders role reversal. You are the Space Lord, and your job is to engineer 25 waves of star critters and send them against the AI-controlled player.
But you don’t want to kill the “player”, just keep them interested. Too hard and they die, too boring and their Fun meter goes down. Along the way they get power-ups, so you have to adapt your waves to their growing strength (speed, damage, etc), while making sure you provide enemy variety.
On top of that, you can get back in the pilot’s seat and play against the top 10 funnest Lords here.
Battle Cube by Nifflas
A giant murder cube made of gears and black smoke, and it looks like obsidian caught in flashes of lightning. This is the boss battle distilled, the ultimate evil, the machine that exists to kill you, no plot, no explanation, just you and the cube.
The cube’s weaponry is governed by music–drums spitting projectiles, synths spinning lasers, etc.
Arrow keys to move, Space to dart. Darting is perfectly expressed–elongated body flitting like a hyperactive tadpole as you dance through gaps in the musicdeath.
You can take three hits.
Ynglet by Nifflas, Sara Sandberg
This is also by Nifflas and also deals with sound and movement, just reversed–hand-drawn and shimmering instead of harsh and industrial.
You are a fish in a void full of water bubbles. You leap from bubble to bubble, ever higher, like you’re trying to escape through the fragments of a lake shattered by polarized gravity.
If you miss the bubbles, you soar to your death. This (along with the delicate controls) emphasizes the safety of the water by contrast, and I would find myself lingering in the bubbles, appreciating their role as micro-sanctuaries.
I like how a dimension of the art is submerged deep in the sound design. The bubbles look like simple pencil sketches, so their liquidness comes mostly from the splashing sound effects, and the way the music drowns underwater.
All three of these Nifflas games are sonic masterpieces, because the sound is so harmonious with exactly how you’re moving and what you’re striving for, like sunlight on your face leading you out of a dark cave (except for Battle Cube which is more like being trapped in a nightmare pocket dimension of congealed traffic lights and weaponized loudspeakers).
Journalière by Mason Lindroth
Surreal, dithered exploration of various structures on a world map crossed by car. Mason’s perspective is always striking–rooms yaw at wide, generous angles, and structures tower with organic, clay-like protrusions.
So artwise, Journalière has what I enjoyed about Mason’s earlier games like Somsnosa and ASMOSNOS (along with the special movement commands learned from other denizens of the island–controls that are fun, not utilitarian). Along the way you’ll find abandoned arcade machines, dancing people, and signs of bizarre, slimy decay.
I like how deep you can walk inside buildings before transitioning to indoors. A small touch, a matter of an extra second or two, but you feel a depth that would be lost if an entrance hotspot were placed at the edge of the building.
Icarus Needs by Stillmerlin
Slick, minimal adventure game about escaping from a dream. The dreamworld is divided into comic panels and organized into monochrome zones with distinctive tunes.
When I played Stillmerlin’s last game, A Duck Has An Adventure, I mentioned wanting more interaction. This keeps the format but adds gentle interactivity akin to massaging the environment until you progress.
Miracles Magpie by John Candy
I started playing and I didn’t stop. So much deeper than I ever could have imagined.
John Candy draws with pixel trash-heaps. The art is the exploration. By which I mean, the chunky graphical noise makes looking at the environment an act of exploration in of itself, in that we’re testing borders (can I walk through this wall? Can I walk on this color?) and making sense of images (submerged just below the surface of representational). At the convergence of the abstract and the representational, we’re left in a perpetual state of unresolved impressions about the seemingly endless structure and its laconic inhabitants.
Familiar things exist in the ruins (locked doors, items from chests, a shop) but whether they’re part of some orderly system or just derelict signifiers in the chaos, I haven’t figured out yet.
The music is incredible, a single looping track powerful enough to carry the entire game.
Mr. Kitty Saves the World by James Earl Cox III
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