The last time I rounded up demos from one of Steam's seasonal Game Festivals, I observed that it had become one of my favourite parts of my job. Afterwards, Graham observed to me that there are so many indie games now, there was nothing stopping me doing the same thing basically all the time. So we hereby present TFI Friday, which stands for "These Fine Indies" (or the ruder variation of course), some good new indie games I've played, presented to you on a Friday.
I cannot promise I will keep to any kind of regular schedule on this, but I'm going to shoot for every fortnight. And I've got some fun ones to kick off with as well. A good varied spread. A buffet of sandwiches with different indie fillings for different appetites: fast-paced abstract runner game Nerve, atmospheric 2D action platformer Olija, and extremely chill clicky puzzle game Down In Bermuda. Feast your eyes on them in action in the video below.
Who's it by? Gunfish Games
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £14.50/€16/$19
Nerve sort of feels like an angrier version of Thumper, if that were possible. It has a similar overall vibe, and the visuals are as impressively trippy and slightly frightening - a funky kaleidoscope of oppressive geometry.
Though, if you just read Thumper and are now well hyped for more rhythm violence, adjust your expectations a small bit. Nerve does have a pretty cool soundtrack, but it's not woven into the game in the same way. Where the little beetle in Thumper was on a flat rail and you timed all your swerves and attacks to the pounding music, in Nerve you speeding along a cylindrical track that you can move around as you shoot along it. You have to memorise the hazards rather than feel the rhythm of them.
I have possibly made it sound tedious, but it's not. Each track, which we will suppose is actually representative of a signal shooting along the nerves in a body, is about 30 seconds long if you do it right first time (which you may well do). Even if you keep biffing it (significantly more likely) you respawn almost instantly, and multiple repeated attemps won't take you very long.
It's a delicate balance, and you may find yourself veering into the ragequit pit every now and then, because Nerve will trick you. Obstacles will move, baiting the jittery to swerve and crash. Hence it is a test of memory as much as reflex. There are boss fights, too. These have caused me to consider that there may be e.g. nanscopic eye-scorpion robots in my blood - impossible, since I haven't even had Bill Gates' vaccine yet!
This is possibly a bit cheaty, because you might well have heard of Olija already, given the fulsome praise that many have showered on it. This praise is not unwarranted. Skeleton Crew, a Japanese studio, have created an uncanny world of monsters and men that is a delight to harpoon your way through.
You play Faraday, a little 2D pixel hero who finds himself shipwrecked in the strange land of Terraphage. Other stranded travellers there have formed a sad little no-hope colony, but Faraday has the wherewithal to find a magic harpoon of mysterious and potentially dark destiny. Also it's wicked cool and you can throw it and warp to it and absolutely fuck it through the middle of your enemies. This is combined with side weapons, of which I favour the jabby rapier.
"Here thar be monsters. And, fuckin', well good magical killin' sticks."
As Faraday ventures further afield, aided by the traditional elderly boatman with a deliberately portentious air, the no-hope town becomes more hopeful. The sight of a man covered in the guts of black gooey monsters and members of an aggressive local tribe was all the inspiration they needed to fix the leaky roof. You unlock a vendor who makes you cool hats from bones and necklaces, the keystone of any town.
But nah, Olija is very good. It blends drama and obscure but compelling story told in snippits, with fun, fast combat and even some puzzle solving in your platforming. The sinister atmosphere puts me in mind of an old sailor sitting by the fire in a pub, telling an even older epic story: off the map, thar be monsters. And, fuckin', well good magical killin' sticks.
Down In Bermuda
And now for something completely different. Down In Bermuda is one of those games that is like being given a puzzle box, where you pull all the levers and make things happen, and then they happen in the expected way and you are very pleased.
Picture this: many years ago you crashed your plane into the Bermuda Triangle, and after being stuck there for decades and growing a great big bushy beard, you are suddenly happened upon by a great presence in the sky. This presence can move things around and rotate bits and bobs, and you join it on a journey to escape. The man is the little man in Down In Bermuda, and the presence is you. Sometimes he looks up in the air and talks to you. You are a benevolent god. Down In Bermuda is a toy that is aware it is a toy, and I find it very charming.
Each level is a new island. In the video I am exploring the forest island, but there is a piratey one with wrecked ships and a boistrous skeleton, and a lava one (pictured above), and one with a lighthouse on top of an undersea research base. To progress to the next island, you have to unlock a magical portal by finding the requisite number of orbs. These are found by doing challenges around the island, like finding all the little stars hidden around the place, or repowering the generators to turn the lights back on.
Sometimes this will be as easy as pulling the right lever. Sometimes you have to pull a bunch of levers or press some buttons in the right order. Sometimes you will have to chase all the bunnies in the grass back into their warrens. You will occasionally be stumped, but not for long. Every issue can be solved if you look around the island enough. It is lovely.
Also, on every island you will have to defeat a monster of some kind, typically in an incongruously violent way, which made me laugh. On the forest island, this was a giant spider. Turning the electricity on allowed the little man to put a plug in a fountain and zap that motherfucker. But it's totally bloodless violence that represents some kind of universal justice that is still absolutely appropriate for children - like the woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood.