Unsettling dreams. Pay-to-win government nomic. Asexual plumber reproduction.
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What is this paragraph doing here? Porpentine is at IndieCade? Don’t tell me Noyb is writing the column this week. He is? Urgh. Get on with it, then.
TIMEframe by Tyler Owen, Clark Aboud, Alex Senechal
Ten minutes of contemplative first person exploration accompanied by a lovely guitar and string piece. These ten minutes represent only ten seconds of in-world time, denoted by the barely discernable movement of leaves, banners flapping in slow motion, flames flickering in the distance. Before too long the game introduces a diegetic reason for the finite time limit, leaving you to prioritize the targets of your unfinished wandering if you so choose.
The original Ludum Dare prototype was an impressive implementation of its concept for the short time frame, but I appreciate the extra content in this post-competition version, which fills the desert landscape with more landmarks and dynamic reminders of your time-dilated state.
There is no jump button, so until the developers smooth out the landscape or slope handling be wary of small pits in the landscape or you might spend half the game stuck in a ditch.
Bell Park, Youth Detective by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
Reading mystery novels as a kid, at some point you have to acknowledge that there's no possible way you would have solved the case because the detective in the story has so much more life experience than you. (Studying Ellen Raskin in primary school I learned that "bookie" isn't an endearing term for a lover of fiction and that my initial understanding of The Westing Game was waaaay off.)
There's a deliberate knowledge gap between young Bell Park and the adult suspects, who are mostly amusing caricatures of personalities in the tech sphere, unafraid to talk above our heroine's head. This forces the player to make accusations and judgment calls without fully understanding how this world works. A true youth detective.
inventor by Jack King-Spooner
Inventor is a collage of disparate art styles, mechanics, moods. Lending outside importance to an otherwise worthless hand-drawn stone. Experiencing Cronenbergian nightmares. Attempting to replicate Mario physics with a pixelated test subject.
I see a lot of the creative process in the narrative beats: trying to tailor a story to one’s audience, throwing away countless drafts, trying the exact opposite of what’s commonly accepted just to see what happens.
Enough Plumbers 2 by Glen Forrester
Enough Plumbers 2, like the original prototype Enough Marios, is a puzzle platformer where whenever you collect a coin, that coin is shortly replaced by another player character, controlled simultaneously alongside every other plumber in the level. Individual plumbers can collect Mario-esque powerups, differentiating them with new abilities to traverse or deform the level.
The level design makes good use of this absurd premise. Plumbers are disposable. Sometimes you're given more than enough plumbers to complete a level, additional ones used as fallbacks if the one you're tracking dies. Other times the game asks you to choreograph an intricate series of sacrifices to get a single plumber to the exit.
Some levels can get excessively long, falling into that old puzzle platformer bugbear where you know what to do but fail at executing one of many steps, sending you back to the start of the level. Thankfully the game doesn't require completion of every level to reach the end.
Apathy by Zacqary Adam Green
Apathy attempts to model what it feels like to be a single voter in a single district in an American-style representative democracy. You're scored on how closely the unicameral legislature's decisions on ten important bills mirror your character's predetermined political views.
You see the representatives from a distance, through a wall of television screens. Their inner workings opaque.
The game leaves it up to the player to decide how politically active to be: voting on candidates, calling up your representative, calling friends in other districts to try and change their policy views or encourage them to follow your active example. It's difficult to sustain the frenzied clicking pace needed to be fully engaged with the system, hoping that something eventually gets through to the representatives through each layer of indirection.
It's hard to feel empowered under this system, but that's the central paradox. An individual vote or call might not matter, but aggregate effects on large blocks of similar-minded voters can sway elections.
Given the current state of American politics this model, flawed as it already is, seems quaint, idealized. Every bill gets a vote. Representatives frequently break party lines. No one gets redistricted or purged from the voter rolls.
Donkey-Me: Raiders of the Lost Ark by Bruno R. Marcos
Donkey-Me is a solid retro remake themed around the first Indiana Jones film. It uses Donkey Kong as a base, but doesn’t adhere rigidly to the original’s design, giving greater emphasis to ladder-climbing enemies and introducing stationary snakes to trip up the incautious.
(Oh, look. Level one replaces the damsel in Donkey Kong with an inanimate golden idol and it's no worse a game for it. It's almost as if her role can be thought of as an empty placeholder within a system that treats her as an object for the hero to acquire. The other two level themes place Marion in that role, summarizing her involvement in the movie as someone who gets rescued twice.)
Robot Bank Teller by John Candy
A homeless man awakens from a dream where people happily acknowledge his presence in a room filled with a surplus of collectible shiny baubles.. The waking world is less friendly. Kicked out of a temporary resting place, your goal is to scrounge up enough money to use an indoor toilet "for customers only."
The game world evokes a modern setting, except teeming with Robot Bank Tellers. Automatons following their programming, absorbed by their tea, gawping at your monetary desperation, rigidly adherent to power structures that ask you to sacrifice what little you have for a chance at dignity.
Make sure to hit Esc to view your things, if you ever receive any.
Some Bee Ess by thecatamites
Three half-remembered dreams turned into short game vignettes, made as part of the same daily game development ritual that brought us Octopus Decision. The focus is less on what actions the developer’s dream persona performed and more on the emotions evoked by the dreams.
In some dreams you may need to either move with the arrow keys or click on the narration to progress.