QuickMehs: Steam Winter Sale 2019 Edition

I had a few games this time that weren’t really bad, but I also couldn’t really rec. Under the right conditions, someone might be interested, but they’d have to be kind of specific conditions.

Inside: World Tree Marche, TumbleSeed, SteamWorld Quest, Forget Me Not: My Organic Garden

World Tree Marche
Management Sim/Clicker

This was really close to being a fun game, but it just couldn’t pull itself together. I wanted to like it a lot more than it put effort into making me like it, if that makes sense.

The basic idea is that you’re a manager for some kingdom’s kitchens who is put in charge of the local marketplace to help pay off food debt incurred by the irresponsible young prince. You have to go out and gather ingredients, manage menus, and create recipes.

The first problem is the translation, which is… bad. In something like a VN this wouldn’t be a huge deal — it was never incomprehensible — but the real issue was that the recipe-creation minigame relied on oblique hints where precise language mattered, and the wonky translation made it basically impossible without a guide. A lot of the time it was obvious a literal translation had taken place when it shouldn’t have, or that words that were close in meaning had been interchanged (the game constantly conflated “bitter”, “tart”, and “sour”, which are all very different things). Often the translations would use archaic words, or archaic meaning of common words, which was very confusing. And then there were issues of localization in the recipe’s reliance on cultural cues to lead you toward ingredients. Some of them were in common between Japan and the US — women like chocolate! — but others were culture-specific and relied on either things I was lucky to have picked up — you eat watermelon on the beach during the summer — or things I had no way of knowing — children apparently love consumme? coffee is a beverage specific to women? This is what a real, professional localization would have caught.

The other issue is the holdover mechanics. I can’t find any real info about the game out there, but I am 100% confident this is a mobile port, and the mobile mechanics are just not compatible with a console game like this. Stuff like the weird energy points that you never ran out of, or the annoying fact that you couldn’t stop the game from running while the console was off. The latter was super annoying; it meant every new playsession you had to catch up with tons of stuff that had happened, all your ingredients had run out, there were 15 cutscenes to watch, and the game had just zoomed ahead in the story without giving you time to process it. Mobile nonsense is annoying enough in mobile games; why they thought a straight port with no adjustments was a good idea is beyond me.

But despite those issues, I actually 100%ed this game, because it had a lot of great elements. The art was lovely, bright and happy, the plot was cute, and the character stories were actually were well-written and the characters well-developed. I actually kind of wish this had just been a VN, because the writing was surprisingly good, and the translation was good enough that in the cutscenes it largely didn’t matter. I was invested in the characters and seeing how their lives unfolded. I loved the fun, weird recipes, and thought the basic idea for a hint-based recipe system was good; when it worked it was quite clever. The game did an excellent job of giving you the sense you were a small part of a larger world, and of exploring how the different societies in that world lived together. And the management elements themselves were well done; if you’re in the market for a casual incremental management game, there’s a lot to recommend here just for the gameplay.

But you’d really have to be specifically looking for a game like this, and have exhausted other, more polished options before I’d say you should check this out. And so it is “meh.”

TumbleSeed
Arcade/Precision

First of all, the developer for this game doggedly insists on selling it as a roguelike. They seem to believe that because the maps can be randomly generated and (like most arcade games) you can get game overs, that makes it a roguelike, which, that is not how genre works. You don’t just say it’s part of the genre and then it magically is.

What this actually is is a very traditional precision arcade game. It’s literally that old game where you had a wood box with a maze and had to tilt it to roll a marble through it without falling into holes. And as an adaptation of that game, it’s quite good, and I had fun with it. Like many arcade games, though, its problem is that it only had one thing to offer, and at a certain point you just move on. I enjoyed the old wooden marble maze thing as a kid, but I wasn’t going to do it nonstop for 25 hours, and I’m not going to play this game for that long either. I’ll pick it up intermittently when I have time to kill and am in the mood, but I’m not going to buckle down and play it like an RPG, because that’s just not what arcade games are meant for.

The game itself doesn’t really seem to understand this. The first release apparently had no save point, requiring you the beat the entire game in one fell swoop as it threw increasingly more holes, traps, and enemies at you, which honestly seems like a specific kind of torture. The dev was shocked, just shocked, when people didn’t want to spend $15 to die over and over for an hour before getting bored and frustrated, and begrudgingly added in small maps with save points while insisting that everyone just didn’t understaaaaaand. Whininess about not making enough $$$ off the game aside,* this move made it actually playable.

(Games refusing to respect player’s time is one of my least favorite things. Yeah, it was probably technically possible to get good enough to beat it the way is was. No, people are not filthy casuals for having lives outside this one game and wanting to do something with themselves other than master the fucking marble maze for 100 hours, the most useful of all skills. In writing my mantra is “Assume your audience is smart”; in gaming it has become “Assume your audience has other things to do with their lives.” If you want to make a superhard game for a very niche audience, fine, but then don’t whine about how the game isn’t reaching a wide enough audience. This is not complex.)

Anyway, if you love arcade games, this one has very high production values, and it’s central mechanic is fun, and with the discrete level options it’s actually a playable game for a regular person. But $15 is still insane; it’s still just one thing, over and over. I paid $5 and that was honestly the absolute top end of what you should pay. I enjoyed my time with it, but after 2 hours I really don’t see myself going back to it in any meaningful way. I have other things to do.

*The dev apparently used Kickstarter funds to go on a $25,000 (TWEN TY FIVE THOU SAND DOLL AR) media blitz for this game, which is equal parts hilarious and sad.

SteamWorld Quest
Deckbuilding/RPG

Ahh, this was a game that made me sad. It had so many of the great things of other SW games — lovely art, nice music, clever story, balanced cast — but it just couldn’t get past the fact that it was so, so boring. I think I got about halfway through before I just couldn’t do it anymore.

SW Quest is a part RPG, part deckbuilding, where your characters can level and such but the actions they can take in battle are determined by your cars. Part of the issue with the game is that, bafflingly, your decks are capped at 8 cards, so the potential for strategy is really very small; once you find something that works, it’s going to keep working, and even if you wanted to change it you kind of can’t because there’s not much room for anything else. The battles are very, very repetitive, as are the dungeons.

(I was also kind of confused about the lore… why do the proto-steambots talk about eating normal food? Why don’t they need water? The worldbuilding here felt just incongruous enough with what was established in the other games to be immersion breaking.)

Unfortunately I don’t have all that much else to say about it. It doesn’t really do anything wrong… but it also doesn’t do enough right. If you are a very casual RPG player or what a Lite introduction to what deckbuilding games are like, this is definitely a valid way to go about it. I also imagine this would be a good game for children getting into gaming. And I have a ton of respect for how versatile the SW dev team clearly is; they’ve made three excellent games plus this one meh one, all wildly different. But beyond that… it’s a skip.

 

Forget Me Not: My Organic Garden
Clicker

This is a very punishing clicker game that forces you through like 20 hours of clicking with no way to automate tasks. What it offers in exchange is an interesting premise and evocative minimalist art style. What it can’t give enough of to compensate for the mind-numbing gameplay is story.

The basic premise is really wonderful. You’re an apprentice at an alchemical shop where the shop owner, Irene, grows organs using magic trees. The organs come with souls, and when inserted into inanimate objects, the organs give them life. Pickling the organs removes the souls, and pickled organs can be used in translplants. But the organs cannot be used to bring back a dead person or animal, because they impart a new soul — the body will live again, but it will not be the same person.

The art is really unique and lovely. The people are drawn in high-contrast, solid colors, while the organs are bright, sparkling rainbows. The style implies world is lifeless, and the organs bring life to it.

Between the premise and the art, I was really excited for this game, but… there’s just not enough there. The mind-numbing clicker quests, which require constant attention, take huge amounts of time, and story content is doling out only a few sentences at a time, so it just never feels like your efforts are being rewarded. Things progress so slowly, and the gameplay never changes or gets more interesting, it just needs increasing amounts of attention.

To make things worse, there’s a goddamn “true ending” thing, so after you complete the game, there’s another eight hours of clicker gameplay to see the actual conclusion.

There’s absolutely no reason to play this game instead of just watching a cutscene compilation on YouTube. There’s just not. But it’s here instead of a straight pan because I actually think the hour-and-a-half cutscene compilation is worth watching. The stories of the people who buy the magic organs are complex and well-told, and the final revelation is very heartwarming. I just wish they’d gone in a more interesting direction with this whole idea.

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