The past week or so has been Back To School time in the UK, also known as the season of adverts on TV about protractors and pencil cases, and posts on Facebook showing a six-year-old standing by a front door and wearing their new school uniform. A dance as old as time. I remember getting a blue jumper that was two sizes too big for me so I could grow into it. Remember it like it was yesterday.
But enough about school itself, a time in my life that I hated to an extraordinary extent and shudder to think of even now. We move to happier things, i.e. games, and in particular the assumption I'm making that now your kids are out of the house for most of the day, you'll have more time to play games. Here are three new indie games that came out in the last month or so, that I feel are apposite for a back-to-school theme.
Who's it by? Big Sir Games
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £15/€17/$20
All right, one last bit of teen nostalgia: ah, the good ol' days of working in a shop for a pittance, because a teen stacking shelves was somehow less valuable than a slightly taller, older person stacking them. Yes, it's back to school now, but soon enough those little tots will be working a summer and weekend job like the rest of us! Although possibly not like Cosmo's Quickstop, the sci-fi space equivalent of a garage where you fill both you and your car's needs by getting petrol and a terrible sausage roll.
You're the teen nephew of Cosmo, and as such your labour is exploited in return for somewhere to live over the summer. Spacefarers turn up and you must rush between automated car-wash stations, giving directions, filling the vending machines, repairing the fully-body coffee showers, moving the quickstop away from meteors... You know, standard stuff. I'm a sucker for time management games of the kind where I need to assemble five burgers and a milkshake for customers who get angry if they wait more than ten seconds, and Cosmo's Quickstop is in that vein of game. But it's 3D, you run around a lot, and you can play it in co-op, which is very fun.
There are other layers as well. As you play through the game, your quickstop gets bigger, so there are more aliens to deal with and more tasks to do. You can earn stars to upgrade machines (the coffee showers become self cleaning, the vending machines bigger) and every so often there's a kind of boss level that's way more difficult than normal. You also have to rotate service stations in and out as customers get bored of them, sort of like setting your daily menu in Cook, Serve, Delicious. If you had to cane playing this for a review I can see it getting old quickly, but playing at your leisure makes Cosmo's Quickstop a real fun time.
Who's it by? ProjectMoon
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £24/€25/$30
This game is complicated, weird, and on Xbox Games Pass, all things that I appreciate in a game. And as a kid I spent a lot of time in the library at school. It was warm, coralled away from the loud kids drop-kicking rugby balls at each other as hard as possible as a form of recreation, and also they got new-ish copies of Heat magazine in sometimes. And books, I guess. The Library Of Ruina is much larger and more hostile, though, having of it a whiff of Terry Pratchett's L-Space concept. This library eats people.
The head librarian, Angela, sends out invitations to the library which magically find their way to their destined invitees. When they turn up, you have a turn-based fight with them (usually a team of two or three people) using your team of assembled librarians. At first this is just one hapless weirdo who turned up at the library accidentally, but you can eventually add more. The combat uses dice rolls to determine initiative, before you play a move using a card pulled from your deck of moves. Defeating invitees turns them into books, often multiple copies of the same book, which you can burn to receive new moves. Fucking, what?
Characters in fights can also enter emotional states, or become staggered. You can use a variety of defensive or offensive moves. And each win lets you send out another invite, until you find that one book Angela is looking for. There are cutscenes showing you a little glimpse of the lives you are about to em-booken. Extremely odd; extremely terrifying.
Literally back to school, eh? Eh? Eh? The titular academy has formalised the traditional social groups - the music kids, the drama kids, the jocks, the artists - into whole different sections of this high school, with dorms and classroom buidlings. As you may be able to tell from the double exclamation mark in the title, Kraken Academy is a comedy game, and is in mileage varying territory vs how hilarious you'll find it.
It got some hits and misses from me in the rofl department, but the premise - which is that you're given a magical amulet allowing you to rewind time every three days, the better to find and release each departments totemic animal spirit before the ruination of the school - is strange and fun. Some tasks can only be done at certain times of day. The whole school is a bit of a ruin. The school instituted a recycling scheme where if students collected and returned errant plastic bottles they got money, so now you just go around with a bat smashing up bins.
In terms of what else you actually do, it's sort of like one of those Cartoon Network adventure games you'd play in the IT lab at break, in that you go around the school and discover what things people are in need of, and then try to source those things, sometimes combining more than one - e.g. to dose tea with sleeping pills to sneak into an office - or doing a little mini-game. While also keeping in mind the whole end-of-the-world time limit thing, naturally. The headmaster appears to be a cat boy. Your first new friend is an anxious broccoli girl called Broccoli Girl. I dunno what to tell you.