Inside: Sproggiwood, Plantera, Talewind, Spirits, Shelter
Sproggiwood is best described as a Lite Roguelike — it’s got all the fun elements and none of the permadeath, making it a really pleasant, stress-free game to play. It’s also funny and has adorable art and I just really enjoyed it. I think I paid $6 and got 24 hours of playtime out of it, and it’s totally worth the money. The plot is weirdly bleak but told in a kind of funny way, which offsets that it’s actually pretty depressing (and now that I think about it, that’s a pretty big feat, considering… but I don’t want to spoilers). It’s really an awful story told in an incongruently cutesy way (and the more I think about it now, having finished it, the more I realize just how depressing the whole thing was), but it does work, I think, especially since it doesn’t take itself too seriously. More importantly, though, it’s really fun, and I thought all the classes were done cleverly and the powers were different enough that experiencing a dungeon with each felt unique. I had a good time doing a completionist run, and was sad when it was all finished.
Plantera is an incremental/clicker farming game that’s available on basically every platform known to man. You plant crops, little dudes harvest them, you click away pests, and use the money to buy more crops and animals, etc, etc. I actually wish I’d gotten it for mobile, because it’s an absolutely remarkable time-killer. It’s cute, has great, fun music, and is simple to play without being mind-numbing. Also let’s be serious I fucking love farm sims and everyone knows it. I do wish there were more crops/animals — it’s weird that there are 100 levels but only 20 unlockables, and after level 20 it’s just buffs. It was definitely worth $0.89, but whether or not it’s worth the full $3 is probably dependent on whether this type of game appeals to you. I don’t play a lot of these kinds of games because a) they tend to feel pointless to me and b) they tend to have pay-to-win elements (this one doesn’t), but because I don’t play a lot of them I probably miss out on good ones, so I’m not sure how this games measures up to the rest of the genre; all I can really say is that I really enjoyed using it to waste away my downtime.
Talewind was one of the most satisfyingly challenging games I’ve played in a very long time. This was a difficult platformer, with absolutely incredible level-design and tight controls that made it’s reflex- and timing-based puzzles a matter of skill instead of luck every time. Despite the rather punishing 1HKO mechanism, I thought there were just enough checkpoints to keep things moving along, and despite dying an embarrassing amount of times (especially in the fourth and fifth worlds) I never felt frustrated. This game doesn’t have a ton to offer in terms of story or breadth, though it does have nice art and music, but it was far and away the winner for gameplay in this batch of games, and that’s a pretty rare thing to single out around here, so if the idea of a Sonic-style platformer that actually requires some thought to beat sounds good, this would be worth picking up. We often talk here about how games confuse rote difficulty for challenge, and this game is the antithesis of those complaints, things like “memorize increasingly long series of numbers.”
It does have its issues. I didn’t like the “find the hidden monolith” method of doling out story content — they were far too easy to miss — and it would have been better if you got snippets automatically, say, at the end of every level. As it was, it all felt disjointed and I never really knew what was going on. The game also suffered from the fact that it was quite small. While “it’s biggest problem was that there wasn’t enough of it” sounds tongue-in-cheek, it’s an actual problem that pops up in indie games, where just when you get into a grove things stop. Even if this game has 3 more worlds inserted in between the 5 in there and a slightly less steep difficulty gradient, the game would have felt much, much larger and consequently, more satisfying. The jumps in difficultly weren’t insurmountable by any means, but they were noticeable in a way that should ideally be smoothed out. I also thought the ending sequence was visibly rushed, and I had no idea who the final boss was or what story-wise was going on during that fight. Unfortunately with small devs sometimes there’s nothing you can do about not having the time and money to make a bigger game, but it’s a shame when the gameplay is so well done. I’d love to see what the design team here could to with a real budget. Speaking of which, I paid $5 for it and found it to be a totally fair price; it’s normal asking price of $9 is on the high side of fair and probably depends on your video game budget (especially considering the amount of free DLC).
But seriously, I can’t praise the level design enough.
Spirits is a pleasant puzzle game that is not made by Amanita. This is worth pointing out, because I bought it thinking it was Amanita and then boyfriend saw the art and also assumed it was Amanita. The visuals are so clearly inspired by Amanita’s games that frankly, I think it passes the line from “inspired by” to “clearly copying.” This doesn’t have anything to really do with the game as a whole, but it does bother me a bit.
The game itself I really enjoyed. The idea is to guide the little Spirits safely through the level while collecting as many Flowers as possible. The spirits have four powers you can use to thwart your environment: blow wind in a direction, build a small staircase, dig, and roll into a giant ball that can block wind. Not all the powers are available on each level, and they’re introduced slowly enough that you have good time to get a feel for how they all work. I thought the level design was really wonderful, with an “ideal” solution you can aim for, but usually ample padding to let you figure out a solution to meet the objective that will allow you to move on. The physics are consistent, the music is lovely, and this is the exactly style of multiple-solution ingenuity puzzle I personally really love. It’s a relaxing, zen kind of game that lets you decide how seriously you want to take it.
I got this for $2, which was a steal, but the MSRP of $10 is pretty out there. I’d wait for it to drop to about $6 or below, then check it out!
Shelter is a really interesting little game. You play as a mother badger who has to feed and protect her cubs as they journey through the forest. It’s a minimalist, experiential game that won’t be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. It has a lovely collage art style that I thought was unique and wonderful — the background on the night sequences sticks out as really cool. The controls and level design are simple, but the game is short and varied enough that it stays interesting, and even though there’s not much to it and I don’t have all that much to say, it works. $10 seems a little steep, considering how short it is, but I’d grab it if it went under $5 or so. I got it for $1.50 which was a great price.