Mechamom. Flatland's gorgeous post-apocalypse. Sega does what PCan’t.
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MechaMom by Eric Butler, Katie Chironis, Connor Fallon, Patrick Jalbert, Tim Vaughan
"You play as a single mother who accidentally gets trapped inside a mech that she has been building. She must now bring up her child as a mech"
Sometimes I shoot the flamethrower by accident :(.
Outer Wilds by Alex Beachum
You have 20 minutes to explore the solar system before the Sun goes supernova. The idea is that you learn with each playthrough, figuring out how to cover more ground and discover new secrets each time.
When you load the game, you're looking up at the sky (a nice choice for the default camera angle). Above you, mysterious planets. Everything you see, you can touch, with no loading screen in-between. You can just fly there.
This is a game where your ship can break and you have to go outside and repair your ship as it moves through fields of gravity and you might get sucked into the sun or something because the sun isn't a background texture it's the Sun.
In Outer Wilds I found awe.
The first planet I landed on (accidentally smacked into as I flailed at the controls) was a water planet. I came down through the atmosphere and splashed into the sea. I saw something through the viewport, so I left the ship to investigate. Below me were giant alien jellyfish. I swam closer.
Before I could touch them, my ship started floating away. I watched helplessly as it got sucked into a waterspout. I swam toward the waterspout to get my ship back and then shwooop I'm flying through the air, into space, and I'm in my fragile little spacesuit, clinging to the outer layer of atmosphere, only to see my ship fall back into the ocean. So I dive in after it. Cosmic slapstick.
The point is, I was allowed to be part of a system larger than myself. Many AAA games define themselves around the player, coming alive at their approach to provide scripted events that simulate awe, rather than supplying the ingredients from which awe is derived. In Skyrim you find the bones of buried systems that never made it, like sprawling dynamic civil wars. The end result has eliminated risk, leaving only the shell of awe.
In Outer Wilds I can get marooned, fucked over by gravity, run out of oxygen. I don't want those things to happen to me, but I appreciate that they can.
The controls are tricky, and on-screen hints refer to console configurations, not PC. I wish there was keyboard documentation (edit: here it is!), especially given the many controls tied to the relatively realistic physics which take some time to get used to. I wouldn't mind a version with more arcadey controls, because all I really want to do is explore cool planets.
But there's something to admire about games that let us experience things in real time, across unabstracted space, step by step. They frustrate us, but we can't help our fascination.
Alex Beachum, game director, talks more about the physics in a comment from RPS's first post about Outer Wilds:
"It’s pretty close to Newtonian with a few massive cheats.
The player and ship are affected by gravity from every massive body (planetoids, moons, and the sun), but planets/moons are only affected by the Sun’s gravity (the Solar System’s too small for every planet to interact and keep a stable orbit).
We also added a bit of angular drag to the ship/player for the sake of usability, but the flight model is otherwise pretty realistic."
Hint: You can skip grabbing the launch codes from the observatory by hitting 0, which will teleport you to the ship instantly.
Groin Gravitators by Andrew Gray, Colin Capurso, Josh Douglass-Molloy, Jonathan “Satan is Lord” Voss
Two-player groin avoidance simulator.
The premise is that you’re hugging someone, but you don’t want your genitalia to touch theirs. And if you’re too far away, your genitals turn red, indicating the hug has failed.
However, the genitals are irresistibly drawn to each other, so you must always be adjusting your movement, but not so close your bulge touches another bulge, shattering your masculinity forever (the ultimate Game Over am I right??) Get really close and “stars will burst from the raw energy created between them, and MASSIVE BONUS POINTS will be awarded.”
Then the barriers come, flashing into existence and ending the game if your genitals touch them. Being a groin avoider is a hard life. Groin avoider.
動体C力検査 by Marussu
Giant black circles are spinning across the screen as high-powered guitar plays.
You are a dot. Don’t touch the circles or you will explode.
When you hold down the mouse button, the circles spin faster and so does your score.
The genius of 動体C力検査 is setting your own difficulty. It lets us do to ourselves what many games will do through hard-coded structure. It lets us decide what we can handle.
You have two ways to survive when the circles come. You can go around, through open space, or go through the gaps, inside the circles, dancing through intersections.
Going inside circles is much more interesting. As circles increasingly crowd the screen, you will have to learn how to live inside them. Surviving the passage of monolithic black shapes as they migrate across your white plain.
Airplane by Brendon Chung
Surreal, replayable micro-hypertext about waking up six miles above the earth, oh my god. From the maker of Gravity Bone and 30 Flights of Loving.
So Many Jagged Shards by Niall Moody
Abstract roguelike. The levels are splintered mazes of shards. As you move, a sea of shimmering synth warps around the violence of your movements.
Your character is a geometric design. Not anthropomorphic--a symbol, an icon, a rogue citizen of Flatland (and if this game were set in Flatland, it would be that world’s gorgeous post-apocalypse). You pick from three preset designs or draw your own, and the result can be quite pretty.
Movement isn’t binary (solid/not solid), instead, you can squeeze through anything if you strain hard enough (I escaped the boundaries of the world and it crashed the game).
I usually run from the enemies but I hear you can kill them with moving shards or by shrinking them (something I learned from the informative Let's Play), which requires manipulation of abilities. Abilities affect specific colors of shards--growing, attracting, rotating, etc.
SMJS is less about the rigor defining many roguelikes and more about cultivating an aesthetic texture--the fluttering orange shards trailing your movements, the music that erupts into crystal agony when you move too fast, the ragged friction of dragging yourself through a swamp of broken glass.
Sonic After the Sequel by Lake Feperd
I know what I want from a Sonic game. I want bright colors and energy music. I want to go fast.
This gives me bright colors and energy music but do I get to go fast? Which is really asking, how is the level design? Sometimes interesting (platforms flashing in and out of existence to the rhythm of lightning), sometimes boring (a little too long or repetitive in some areas). It’s been years since I’ve played the original Sonic games so I have no idea if this is better, worse, or the same.
Sonic has always been a weird combination of stressful and relaxing elements, and this is no different.
Maybe I’d rather focus on the lush backgrounds, the vivid palette, the rushing music (it has a huge soundtrack by six composers), and the sensation of spinning through loop-de-loops instead of navigating springs and spikes. Speed is encouraged, but sometimes you hit these little obstacles that punish you for going fast.
Maybe Sonic should be a racing game, but without other racers or time limits or laps.
Why is Sonic cool? We know why Sonic is cool. He’s blue, he has spikes, and he tricks your brain into thinking he’s always wearing sunglasses even when he isn’t. But there are other reasons.
Enemies are actually friends imprisoned inside robot bodies, and when you hit them, their scary robot form falls away and their soft animal self leaps free.
And rings. Rings are both points and health. Taking damage sends all your rings flying (a horrible, almost erotic vulnerability) and you can gather up your healthmoney if you rush fast enough. You cannot die if you have at least one ring (unless you drown--water is apparently sovereign over the rules of life and death--maybe the water deity refused to participate in the divine pact at the dawn of the Sonic universe).
This is both cool and stressful. Each level of Sonic becomes about the fear surrounding the accumulation of material goods. But fuck it. I don't need much. I just want to see the end.
I rush through the jungle clutching my lone ring like a talisman.