Inside: Niche, Guacamelee!, I & Me
The first problem with Niche (A GENETICS SURVIVAL GAME, as it insists on obnoxiously subtitling itself in my Steam library) is that while it markets itself as a survival sim, it’s actually a Civ-style board game. It’s only ‘survival’ in the sense that every board game in which if you try not to lose all your pieces is survival. It’s not a sim in any sense of the word. Still, as irritated as I was by this discovery, this wasn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for me, as I like board game-style video games, and the idea of basing the strategy around ‘breeding’ units with semi-RNG traits instead of constructing them is interesting. The real problem with Niche is that it’s pretty obtuse and incredibly boring.
Its very bare-bones tutorial doesn’t really explain anything other than the controls; things like battle, damage, illness, stats, and more are left hanging, and much of it isn’t clear from gameplay. How do you recover from illness? Is damage recoverable over time? How can you tell when/if an enemy takes damage, or how much HP they have left? The UI is also really irritating, with no good way to pick out your pieces from the map and no way at all to, say, call up any piece with available moves left. You have to go through manually clicking to check and hope you don’t end a turn with moves left on the field.
But none of this actually matters because surviving is stupidly easy. Hoarding food while just continually breeding to make more units ensures you’ll never lose, and there’s no larger objective as far as I’m aware, so the game becomes just the same few actions over and over. The only thing you’re playing ‘against’ is the environment, and there are no goals aside from continuing to play. There’s no incentive to do anything else but rotely procreate, and if the reason it appealed to you was the chance to build a cool creature, just go buy Spore for like a dollar and do it without all the nonsense.
Also, and is this minor, but achievements in Steam weren’t triggering.
Mr. Act and I sat down to play this together and after about 30 minutes he turned to me and said, “This is a terrible game.” He was right. He has continued, over the past few days, to intermittently remind me that he hated this game, which frankly is as passionate as I’ve ever seen him about a piece of media.
Ugh, I don’t even know where to start. Probably the worst thing was the level design. The levels were confusing, obtuse, and recursive. Neither of us had any idea where we were or where we had to go in the dungeon at any point, and using the minimap didn’t even help. The puzzles were unintuitive and uninteresting. The way the screen suddenly flashed as you moved from room to room instead of a smooth transition was jarring and disorienting. The button-mashy combat was repetitive and unfun, and button combos were infuriatingly unreliable. The whole thing was a chore to experience.
The game was also stupidly misogynistic. The three women are a) the damsel in distress, about whom everyone says it’s sad she’s in distress because she’s hot; b) the non-story woman second-player character whose tits bounce around; and c) the evil woman who speaks in double entendres and starts freaking out because she’s omgsojealous of the bad guy capturing a hot woman, because women, so emotional. All the male characters, including townies, do nothing but talk about screwing women. Like, the mentor guy who gives you powers introduces himself by talking about fucking your mom and then like, threatens to have sex with her when he thinks you’re slacking off? It’s so goddamn weird. I am also HIGHLY suspicious of three guys named Chris Harvey, Ryan MacLean and Graham Smith writing Mexican people as lecherous assholes. (It also makes the obsession with women’s bodies feel like a fetish thing.) I’m suspicious of them writing a game based on Mexican culture in general, but honestly I couldn’t even get far enough into it to complain about that.
And this is beside the point but also indicative of the amount of thought it feels like was put into this game in general: the title has nothing to do with fucking anything. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime-sentences: This game is completely unrelated to guacamole. They just chose a random ~Mexican~ thing and made a stupid portmanteau out of it. They didn’t bother to find an actual word in Spanish and make a clever pun, they just went HUR HUR YOU CAN GET GUACAMOLE AT MEXICAN RESTAURANTS SO LET’S CALL OUR GAME THAT.
I’d be very curious to know if there are any games out there about Mexican/South American culture by a Latinx team/head writer/etc., because this seems like a cultural moment in which that kind of art is super necessary, but this is very very much not that game. (Update: Aritana and the Harpy’s Feather has been on my list for a while, can’t believe I forgot about it. Also, some googling has led me to Mulaka and not much else.)
I & Me
The idea behind I & Me is a good one, in theory: it’s a puzzle platformer where your movements control two different characters at the same time, so that you have to move in ways that don’t kill either of them but still get them to the goal.
What this game ending up teaching me is just how much of my playing this type of game happens on a subconcious level. I just repeatedly would die because I could not stop myself from progressing with one character even when I knew consciously it would kill the other. I’ve spoken before about how good platformers let you get into a rhythm, and this was the utter opposite of that: at every turn, a lifetime of platforming experience and desire to test physics thwarted me. I don’t know if this is a problem inherent to this idea, or if you could design a game like this that worked with experienced players instead of against them, but either way this game ending up being incredibly frustrating.
The other more immediate problem was the inconsistent, unintuitive hitboxes. This was one of those game where even after you figured out the puzzle, you couldn’t beat the level because the controls and design were so clunky. My brain’s causing me to constantly suicide might not even have been that big of a deal in a game where progression was smooth.
Also, and it was the least of the game’s problem, but the story was complete nonsense. I have played a few games now that attempt to do this thing where you get a line of story before each level, and it’s supposed to be connected to the level somehow, and I’ve never seen it end up as anything but an incoherent mess.