Games for Racial Justice and Equality (Part 3)

N through P. I got distracted splitting my time with my Christmas games, so this is shorter than the previous posts. Some interesting RPGs in this one.

Nano Driller
Puzzle (?)

A game where you play as a… drill? Thing? Functionally and aesthetically, it’s a spaceship. You can’t move freely, and instead have to accelerate and brake to get to where you want. Maybe that appeals to some people, but I just find that control scheme extremely frustrating. Add in time limits, and I’m out. Couldn’t even get past the second level.

A Nightmare’s Trip
Visual Novel

A confusing mess. The stated premise of this is that you play as the physical embodiment of a child’s nightmares, who goes on a trip and meets the original person who made them. Except that there’s also a ton of other bizarre worldbuilding details crammed into a very short space with no explanation. Everyone appears to be some sort of monster creature, there are aliens from other planets (dimensions?) and demons from Hell, and it’s not even clear how the nightmare creature is supposed to work. I get the impression this is part of a larger canon where these other elements are explained, but if so the game’s description really should have mentioned that it can’t stand on its own. The plot itself is also very boring and bizarrely banal, with most of the time taken up by normal tourist sightseeing and the weird aliens’ wacky antics. I’m really confused what the point of this was supposed to be.

No Delivery
RPG / Horror

Camp horror inspired by Five Nights at Freddy’s. You play as the most recent employee for a creepy run-down kids’ restaurant with a dark past. It differs from FNAF in that there’s actual gameplay: You have to navigate around the facility and deal with any monsters you encounter through turn-based battles.

The gameplay has a lot of neat ideas, but unfortunately very bungled execution. It tries to do a survival horror type thing where you initially have very limited health, resources, and items, but combines this with luck-based mechanics like miss rates and damage variance. In the beginning of the game, you have few options beyond chipping away at enemies with your regular attack, making battles nothing but a frustrating luck and numbers game. The “dungeons” are also way too variable in their structure: Every screen is randomly-generated as either an enemy encounter, an obstacle that requires expending a resource, or something helpful like HP restoration or a bonus party member. Yes, something as important and game-changing as additional party members is up to complete random chance — you may get them right at the start of the dungeon, or never. I would frequently get overwhelmed by terrible odds and unrelenting enemy encounters on one run, then breeze past it on another just by getting tons of screens I could bypass completely. The random generation algorithm really needed some sort of rubber-banding effect to create a more even experience, and to give you the bonus characters at the very start.

The interesting part lies in the resource management aspect. Using skills consumes one of seven different resource items, or sometimes HP, and these resources all feed into each other in a really neat way. At the start of the game, you’re told to clean up trash and dirty dishes that are lying around the restaurant, and you can trade them for money by “selling” them to sentient trash cans. You can then use the money to buy food, which can be used to heal your HP… and when used, it also generates trash and an empty dish. All three of these items can be used to fuel skills for several classes; for instance, the Waitress can throw plates for a stunning attack, and the Delivery Boy can either throw food for damage or consume two units at once for a greater heal.

The issue is that this delicate economy becomes trivial as soon as you become strong enough to reliably beat the dungeons, because enemies there drop free money when defeated, and lots of it. You’ll very quickly run into more money than you know what to do with; by the endgame, buying 99 units of food barely put a dent in my funds. Additionally, other items you can buy for cheap are incredibly powerful — special mention to soda cans, which make you nearly invincible and grant you double turns for an indefinite time; the dev really should have rethought that one. You also get fully healed without losing any progress if you return to the hub outside of a dungeon, so that rather trivializes HP management (and resource management, since there are respawning balloons that will give you items in exchange for HP).

Overall, I’d say it’s decent enough to be enjoyable if you like camp horror and don’t mind the annoying mechanics I mentioned. There’s a lot to explore and mess around with, and the combat does get interesting once you’ve gotten more items and characters.

Oddventure (demo)
RPG

WHY DOES EVERYONE KEEP USING THE SAME TERRIBLE KEYBOARD CONTROLS FOR RPGs. PLACING CONFIRM AND CANCEL SO FAR APART SHOULD BE A CRIME.

*ahem*

Oddventure is an RPG very obviously inspired by UnderTale. It has a similar morality system with options for pacifying enemies instead of killing them, but uses a more typical RPG backbone with party members and without dodging minigames. Its core feature is a mood system, where every character has an emotion score from sad to happy. Attacks make characters sad in addition to dealing physical damage, and you can comfort characters to improve their mood. Maxing out an enemy in either direction will cause them to leave the battle, and sometimes give you a present if you made them happy.

It’s an interesting idea, and I do like games that take mood and morale into account. In practice, though, I feel like it’s too simple. Unlike in UnderTale, enemies have no unique interactions that affect their mood; you always kill or pacify them the exact same way. This also strips the enemies of personality and makes me feel like I’m just going through the motions and being good out of obligation rather than because I actually care. Why am I comforting enemies that do nothing but hurt me even while I’m comforting them? Enemies in UnderTale reacted to your actions and even helped you in response. But at the same time, I don’t see the incentive to be evil either. Unlike in UnderTale, you can still level up by pacifying enemies, and killing enemies isn’t any easier than pacifying them. I’m just left with a very unclear idea of what the game is going for… which isn’t great, considering this is a demo meant to make people contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.

On Rusty Trails
Platformer

This is a neat platformer that reminded me of pid. The central gimmick is that you live in a war with ethnic tensions between two species, but you wear a suit that lets you switch appearances between one or the other. This changes what platforms, save points, and hazards interact with you. Additionally, you can walk on any surface in any orientation, in defiance of gravity. It completely changes the way I normally think about platforming levels, and turns levels into much more of a puzzle than a test of reflexes. Overall, it manages to do a lot with its simple mechanics, and I found it very engaging.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really do anything with the racism theme, especially a shame considering it was included in this bundle. The racial tensions are nothing but a background for the main story, which is a silly excuse plot about the protagonist cashing in an insurance claim. The protagonist never reacts to the racism, we’re never told what the respective parties’ grievances actually are, and the whole issue goes completely unresolved. Like, it’s nice you got a new house, dude, but I’m pretty sure there’s still a race war going on? Maybe you should do something about that?

PARANOIHELL
Survival Horror

I don’t really get this. It’s a trippy surreal horror thing about moths and transformation and stalking and police violence and serial killers, apparently? But it never fully explains what’s going on, just gives you a lot of gore and jumpscares.

The gameplay is pretty rough. Movement is slow and attacking is awkward. You theoretically have limited resources (weapons have a limited number of uses before breaking), but I never got close to running out. I was playing on easy mode, though.

Polymute
Puzzle

A game where you play as a wizard who can transform into anything they see. While exploring magical ruins, you use your transforming abilities to solve puzzles, such as transforming into a creature to get past guards or transforming into an object to help an NPC clear an obstacle. Unfortunately, it didn’t really grab me, largely because the controls are so tedious. There are tons of forms and you have to go through a huge menu to select one ever time you transform; on top of this, you can’t move while transformed into an object, so any object puzzles will have you shifting back and forth tons of times if you position yourself even slightly wrong. The low-res aesthetic also makes it difficult to tell what the forms are supposed to be at times.

2 Comments

  1. B says:
    I hope you play A Short Hike, Wide Ocean Big Jacket, and Far From Noise from the bundle at some point! Love these reviews you do. :D
    1. I plan to do A Short Hike, just as soon as I can upgrade my graphics capabilities to handle it. (Whyyy does everyone insist on using cutting-edge 3D graphics for all their indie games.) The other two sound interesting, I’ll have to try them.

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