Author Archives: St. Elmo's Fire

Games For Racial Justice and Equality (Part 1)

So, itch.io ran a bundle to fundraise for Black Lives Matter, offering over a thousand games for only $5. As a fundraiser, I found the ethos… questionable (“Give us money so we can do actual activism while you play video games”), but it was a good deal, so I got it.

A good chunk of the items included aren’t actual games; they are either assets or tabletop RPGs. There are still a ton, though. Here are my thoughts on the games I’ve gotten through in the first half of the year:

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Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

(Disclaimer: As of this writing, I have only seen up through season 2, and the show is still ongoing.)

This is Extruded Cartoon Product. Its blurb sounds like a blender of modern cartoon cliches: Post-apocalyptic! Female protagonist! “Journey home” plot! Power of friendship! Giant talking animals! Secret tragic villain backstory! But it doesn’t actually do anything with it. The whole thing has a very design-by-committee feel to it — it’s just woke enough to make the Tumblr crowd spread it like wildfire, without being truly transgressive or subversive.

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Digimon World Re:Digitize

In 1999, Bandai broke Digimon into the mainstream with the release of its first video game title: Digimon World for the PlayStation. Digimon World was, by any objective measure, a terrible game. The mechanics were incredibly convoluted, punishing, and poorly-explained, glitches abounded, and everything was filtered through a poor translation that just made everything even more confusing. Even with the official strategy guide, we were barely able to muddle our way through to the end.

I loved it anyway, because it was also an incredibly unique game. It was a fascinating blend of open world, town sim, monster-raising sim, and RPG. You were given free reign to explore a huge, fascinating world with tons of secrets and interconnecting parts, and every digimon you recruited contributed to the central city in some way. At the beginning of the story, the city is totally abandoned, with nothing but a sad empty market square; by the end, it is a booming community with a variety of incredible services. Even the digimon that provided only minor or aesthetic additions delighted me; I loved seeing how all of them contributed in their own way.

Unfortunately, this was to be a one-off. The sequels in the series were completely different genres, adopting much more standard RPG mechanics. I’m not sure what they were thinking, because this is Digimon, so it’s not like it has anything going for it but the monster-raising aspect.

So imagine my surprise when I heard there was a spiritual successor to the original Digimon World, using the same mechanics! It was called Digimon World Re:Digitize and though it was never released outside of Japan, a fan translation was made. I decided to try it out on a whim.

I discovered they made Digimon World into a functional game — but at what cost?

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The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzler. You play as a robot who awakens to the voice of someone claiming to be your creator, who tasks you with completing puzzles. He promises you eternal life for your service, but orders you not to ascend the tower at the center of the world.

As a puzzle game, I thought this was quite good. I was initially worried it would become repetitive, but the difficulty curve is excellently paced, with new mechanics doled out at just the right speed to get you used to each. The gameplay is incredibly intuitive, with many levels functioning as tutorials for new mechanics simply through their design and allowing you to poke everything at your leisure. There’s little in the way of explicit tutorial text, but you don’t need it; you learn how the world works by investigating it. I’d even say the game had a bit of a Metroidvania feel in the sense that certain puzzles teach you tricks and tactics that help make others much easier.

I also appreciated a fix for something that bothered me about Portal: held objects will snap to switches and boxes when you place them, so you don’t run into the problem of failing the puzzle because you placed a block a few pixels off-center from the pressure plate and the unnecessarily complicated physics engine took that as an excuse to go crazy. Similarly, the game highlights which areas are reachable by jump, so you don’t have to wonder about that either.

My only complaint is that I felt the addition of actual hazards were unnecessarily frustrating, especially when some puzzles can be quite long and require a lot of finnicky setup (especially the star puzzles that require configuring multiple puzzle areas at once). I think it would have been nicer if dying didn’t force you to reset the entire area, especially when the entire conceit is that you’re in a simulation where death is meaningless.

Also, the star puzzles that required you to use clever manipulation of your tools and environment were good, but the ones that were just “You need to find this switch that’s hidden around a corner behind a tree and in total darkness” were just infuriating. Pixel hunts are not puzzles.

As for the plot, my reaction can be pretty much summed up by this SMBC comic:

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