Happy New Year! Somehow we went straight from January 2020 to January 2022. That's weird. Huh. Well, I'm officially giving us a do-over. I think we've earned it.
The games I've collected this week for the first TFI Friday of the year are going to ease us gently out of the time loop that we've been stuck in the last umpteen months. Accordingly, the first one is a time loop puzzle game.
Who's it by? MorpheusZ
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £11/€12/$15
In this, you, a wizard who looks like a cute lil' cereal mascot, are guided by the disembodied voice of Lloyd Grossman (who seems to be some kind of time god) to save your sister from accidental banishment. This means getting a time crystal, and to do that you have to run a gauntlet of trials - oh such difficult trials, that even the most powerful time wizards balk at!
In practise, these trials are a series of platform puzzle levels. Each is a load of blocks built into a bunch of different steps and platforms and connecting bridges, made out of different materials. Hidden on each level are a number of crystals that you need to collect, and then reach a portal to get to the next level. The catch is that you can basically only reach one crystal. If you go for that one, the bridge will collapse behind you; go for the other, and you'll jump down a drop you can't climb up again. But! There's a time rewind that you can use exactly once per level, which then creates a ghost of your previous actions. This means you can run over the bridge and pick up that crystal, rewind, and then drop down the cliff while your time ghost is off running over the bridge.
Unfortunately, the levels quickly get more complicated than that, plus you can also create a paradox, if you run and collect a crystal before your past self does... It's clever as well as cute, and there's something pleasingly retro about it in how sincere it is about all the time bollocks the narrator and main character chat about.
Who's it by? Bedtime Phobias
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? Free
I'm told that this game, made for the Women Game Jam, was "made as our team's way of processing our collective trauma of living through the longest lockdown in the world" (that being the 262-day stint of restrictions in Melbourne, Australia). It's short, but very effective. Rather than living through a pandemic, the nameless main character is dealing with a Lovecraftian horror - a strange violet creature floating over the city skyline. They have been inside for who knows how long. They are alone. One day they find a dog, which they call Lambshank.
This dog is... weird. Throughout you are not sure if it just a starving dog, or if it is something else. Each night the person has horrible dreams reliving the day the giant monster came. They hear things on the radio. They start to doubt their perceptions of reality. Their understanding of time rubber-bands in and out. Is anything real? Are they real? Are there people outside? Should they leave? It's a very good game - perhaps too effective, if you're feeling fragile still - that captures the loneliness and fear when what you are afraid of could be part of the people you love. Is it better or worse to stay alone?
I played the demo for Aquamarine and found it a bit frustrating, but since then it's gone through a bunch of changes that make it a lot more playable and fun. You're given a bunch of starting resources to help you on your way, and the survival in this game is beautiful and calm rather than hanging on by the skin of your teeth.
You've crashlanded with your little bubble submarine, and you can explore the ocean around you. You make a garden on your home island where you can grow some of the plants you collect. You find something to collect water. You scan the seabed and learn what the different animals do. Those duck-billed fellows can break open crystals, but don't get too close when they're glowing! Don't go near the yellow crystals until you know what you're doing, either, because they're the lure on top of a big lizardy monster that'll leap out at you. A lot of it reminds me of In Other Waters, in fact. Starting over, uncovering a world, building a place for yourself. It's one day at a time, innit.