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TFI Friday: three indie puzzle games with slightly melancholy vibe

Feel happy sad with A Juggler's Tale, The Sundew and Night Reveries

The year has finally turned, reader. I am having discussions at home about putting the heating on. When I leave the office it isn't dark, but it's fuzzy around the edges. My knuckles are cold. It's the time of year, before the Skeleton War memes begin in earnest, to luxuriate in feeling a bit melancholy. It's healthy to feel sad sometimes, you know. Didn't you watch Inside Out? I did, and in my screening at the cinema a child called out "Where's Bing Bong?" when the heroic Bing Bong disappeared...

This week, I have collected three different puzzle games with very different vibes. I know I'm biased in favour of puzzle games more than the usual reader, but these ones are very good and worth a punt, and at least one should pique the old interest. And they all gave me that happy-sad feeling. Like, I want to wrap up in a blanket and play these games and maybe think about my granny a bit. That sort of feeling.

The Sundew

Watch on YouTube

Who's it by? 2054
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £11/€12/$15

If I was a cyborg I would 100% look down on robots, and that's what Anna Isobe does quite a lot in The Sundew, a cyberpunk point and click puzzle adventure set in (naturally) a future dystopia. There's a classic vibe to the clicking and pointing that you do, although there's no nine verb menu to contend with. Items you collect go into a nice drop-down inventory at the top and you can move around whatever you want to make it interact with something else. There are other nice bits as well, like how your phone is, err, your eye, combined with a head implant, so the button icon for it on the screen is an eye. Whenever you get a new item on your to-do list, it wiggles and makes a noise you can't miss.

The story (at least so far as I've played it) is interesting. Anna is fun, and hungover. She's a cop who spends more than usual time calling robots idiots, and commenting about how she's better than them or could easily break them, and I am more invested in her feeling a bit obsolete (the future version of being replaced by self-checkout machines) than I am the standard global conspiracy that she gets caught up in.

But most importantly, The Sundew looks fantastic. It's dark, wet, and a bit of a downer but in a beautiful way. You want to stand in Anna's apartment and stick your hand out of the window to catch the falling raindrops.

A Juggler's Tale

Watch on YouTube

Who's it by? kaleidoscube, Mixtvision
Where can I get it? Steam, GOG, Humble, Epic Games Store
How much is it? £13/€15/$18

A Juggler's Tale was one of the games showcased on our Indies Uncovered livestream at EGX just last weekend. You are Abby. Abby is a puppet, but that's okay because she is quite sweet and also far enough away from the screen that she does not terrify me. She's a juggler in a circus and one day she makes a bid for freedom, escaping to run along a side-scrolling path into a 3D world full of danger and obstacles. One of the things I most enjoyed about it is that the world is very big, and Abby is very small. She can't fight enemies, but must hide and run instead. And there's a very good stormy section where the rain and the lightning make even trees into menacing monsters.

Every animal or person in the world has strings to help them move, and these are often what foil your progress. Abby can't crawl or walk under things, for example. She has to climb over, or find a different way around. If the sails of a windmill block your path, find a way to turn the windmill. But this is also where it gets interesting, because the narrator of the story can act upon you, as it turns out. He starts off reading rhyming couplets describing the action, but soon he's giving you hints, or lifting you over big gaps using your strings. And if you don't do what he says, he starts getting cross...

Night Reverie

Watch on YouTube

Who's it by? Somber Pixel, indienova
Where can I get it? Steam
How much is it? £7/€8/$10

It's maybe unfair to say that I found Night Reverie as melancholic as the other two games. In fact, it's actual very playful and bright. You play as a little boy who wakes up in what seems like a dream version of his own home - but the sort of dream that is almost-but-not-quite a nightmare. Many rooms are locked. The basement is full of boxes. There is a sad rabbit hanging around the living room.

Like The Sundew, Night Reverie uses an inventory system. At any time you can open your bag to equip an item (so when you interact with something in the world, it will be with that item) or combine them with others. For example, combining a cooked carrot with sliced bread will make a carrot sandwich. Then you can equip the sandwich to give it to the rabbit, who will be slightly less sad. But he will still have a chat with you about how he's scared of the house, and how he misses his best mate.

You have a little living flame companion, who is proably a metaphor for something. It made me think a lot about how things change as you grow up, and how scary your own house can be if it feels a bit wrong or strange. Who put this cauldron in the kitchen? Why is my cat so huge, and why can't he remember my name?

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