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Grandpa by Omar Enezi, Abdullah Hamed, Basma Mariki
This is an illustrated hypertext about a girl and her grandfather, a small, almost traditional adventure game about finding his missing hat. There’s something interesting going in with its point of view. It feels like a picture book, told in the past tense by a third-person narrator, but the accompanying images are always drawn from the grandfather’s perspective and the prompts mostly involve answering the granddaughter’s questions and advising her what to examine, what to pick up, and where you’d like her to roll your wheelchair next. The overall effect is charming: What a helpful grandchild! What a gracious grandparent! What a lovely (and ridiculously wealthy) home! What a nice little adventure we’re having!
The ending recontextualizes all this in a way that justifies a lot of how the game is constructed in the first place: the disjointed point of view, the cheery picturebook style. Even the ostentatiously wealthy home, it turns out, is somewhat demanded by the genre. (Recommended reading: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.)
Accessibility note: While this can be played almost completely via screen reader, there is one passage in which seeing the drawing is crucial. (There’s also one puzzle I solved by brute force, and it’s possible the solution I couldn’t find was hidden in the images.)
Death of the Augnob by Jake Clover
Goal-oriented games are often structured around cleaning up a mess: something is wrong in the world and the player is tasked with restoring order. This game starts us off in a bathroom and our only available action at first is to mop up the glowing green stains on the floor. A patron bumbles in and leaves another puddle for us to take care of. But before we can leave — we’ve just heard screams from the adjoining room — the game forces us to put our mop away.
Playing through the rest of the game — trying to figure out what it wants from us — ends up involving making a whole lot of messes of our own. I kept trying to return to the bathroom to retrieve my trusty mop, but it’s the one screen you can’t reenter. This is a game about making a lot of small messes while cleaning up a bigger one.
The game itself is alien and hostile and messy in the best sort of ways. It has the feel of an improvisation. There’s an uneasiness to its shifting camera perspectives. There are a few action sequences that seem to require perfectly immediate responses, but failure — while gruesome — doesn’t force you to retread too much ground.
Glitchhikers by ceMelusine, Lucas J.W. Johnson, Andrew Grant Wilson
Glitchhikers is a sleepy, dreamy, driving game. The moon is large, the road is twisty, and your eyes blink slow, drowsy blinks as the radio announcer calmly introduces the next song. You’re not fully in control. You can speed up and slow down a bit, and you can slowly switch lanes, but you can’t drive off the road. This aspect feels alternately both real and dreamlike. It feels real because your actions are circumscribed by the same sort of restrictions drivers tend to place on themselves. But it feels dreamlike because you can focus on whatever you want — even slowly turning your head from one side window to the other — without fear of crashing. There’s also something dreamlike about travelling, knowing you’re travelling, but not knowing why you’re travelling or where you’re headed. The first song on the radio is credited to David Lynch, and the reference seems apt. Are those taillights up ahead? Is that someone on the side of the road?
I’m being more circumspect than necessary about a big aspect of the game — picking up hitchhikers, having conversations with them — but that’s because the first time I played I missed the hitchhikers completely and yet I cherish even that first partial playthrough. It exclusively emphasized the loneliness of the road, almost perverse in the extent to which it left me to my own devices: driving, turning my head to get a better look at the moon, wondering about those taillights I can’t quite catch up to, wondering if there’ll be another hitchhiker to pick up after missing the first one, wondering about the glitches jumping around through the windshield. It was my own fault I missed the hitchhiker, I’d thought. I was too busy driving.
But checking out the passenger seat is all it takes to trigger the dream logic of the already picked-up hitchhiker. This is a nice touch. And I like the conversations — the way they interrogate the mythos of the night drive, the way they build up a dreamy overarching story from passenger to passenger — but I might’ve prefered if the game forced you to turn your head to see the dialog choices, leaving the windshield mostly clear, letting you choose the loneliness of the road even with a dreamworld passenger beside you. Have you already fallen asleep? Have you already crashed?
Void Run by Benjamin Soulé
I am just awful at playing this game, but I found that difficulty fascinating. You control a short snakelike creature, and your goal is to clear each board by forming a loop around the other critters. Each time you do so, some green dots are released, and eating those green dots will allow your tail to grow longer, making it easier to form further loops. You’re given four randomly selected powerups each time you start the game, but you have to pick one to give up after clearing each of the four worlds. This is a neat design choice, possibly a punishment for eradicating life on each planet? The ethics of your actions are unclear.
You lose one of your very limited lives each time you run head-on into a critter, which is easy to do since circling around them means you have to get very close. The game seems almost impossible at first until you suss out a few more nuances to the ruleset.
The most crucial thing not mentioned by the instructions is that forming a loop destroys the floor tiles beneath you, which releases green growth dots even if you haven’t managed to encircle an enemy. Looping yourself around a critter is just barely possible at the starting length, but it’s excruciatingly difficult, so the first step in any level is probably to clear out some of the floor. The other big thing to discover is that each level is very, very small — in fact smaller than the screen itself, looping around in all four directions with a sliver even duplicated at each screen edge. Recognizing this gives you a much better chance at planning ahead.
Floras by KS Chong
Floras is a neat sort of match-3 game about creating a compact, elegant garden. Each turn you are given an orange or pink tile to place on the board, but only adjacent to your previous move. If the new tile connects three or more like-colored tiles, they all fuse together into a single tile on that spot and that new tile is given a numerical value equal to the sum of the values of the tiles that formed it. If a newly combined tile group has a value higher than 9, it instead fuses into a flower blossom which can no longer be moved or combined. The game ends when you place a tile with no adjacent free spots for your next move, and your score seems to be based on the number of blossoms you’ve created. I think my best is 7879.
What I find most interesting here is how success — creating the immobile blossoms — is precisely what ends up hindering you from playing further, the opposite of the standard match-3 formula. The biggest shame is that it doesn’t show you your garden at the end, and it’s unfortunate that the scoring system isn’t more transparent.
Michael Consoli’s Alternative Function IV is a clever spaceship game, but you might not realize quite why until you switch modes (press tab on the menu screen).
Noyb’s (Trembling Dots) is a series of microgames that only want you to succeed.
S. Woodson’s Twine game Magical Makeover knows you need to look your very magical best to have any hope of infiltrating the Princess’s ball.