On the other hand I start radiation next week so here are some pans. You may notice there are twice as many of these; I did not have a good run of Steam sales last year, apparently.
Inside: Pan-Pan, Copoka, Nimble Bun, Yomawari, Salt, Alicemare, htol#NiQ
Pan-Pan was published but, I found out too late, not developed by Might and Delight. It’s another game that thinks that using words is blase and I have to say of all the indie subgenres trending right now the whole ‘refuse to tell you what’s going on because they for some reason think that’s inferior’ is quickly becoming my least favorite. Pan-Pan really suffers for it, too. It claims it’s an open-world, but it’s actually not — you have to complete each area in a very particular order, but it doesn’t goddamn tell you, so you’ll often end up wasting huge amounts of time trying to complete uncompletable puzzles. There’s also no map, so it gets super obnoxious trying to figure out where you have and haven’t been and how to get where you need to go. You basically have to accidentally stumble into doing things the right way which is not how you game design. It’s almost unplayable without a guide, and it’s not doing anything that makes it worth trudging through with a guide.
On top of all that, loose controls makes some of the puzzles that require walking out patterns a nightmare, and there’s a lot of story/gameplay dissonance (I can’t push down the crumbling door by ramming it, but I can… with a stick?).
Copoka is actually more of a flying sim, but whatever.
I really liked the idea of Copoka, which is that you experience life in a dystopian city from the perspective of a bird flying around gathering materials to make a nest. The problem was that I could not for the life of me figure out how to gather materials and eventually gave up after flying around for an hour desperately trying to locate interactable objects. I’m not really sure what went wrong here — was it me missing something? Was there some kind of glitch? Again, though, what was going on in the game wasn’t so great that I felt the need to spend the time using a guide. If the objects you were supposed to gather were just that hard to see, that’s bad design.
The game also had performance and control issues. It just didn’t feel worth overcoming the hurdles it put in the way of my experiencing it.
This an aggressively mediocre game, so I put it here. Nimble Bun is a just-okay platformer in which you control a rabbit. Its controls are fine, its levels design is fine (but very simple), and I finished it feeling fine enough, but there’s almost nothing actually interesting about it. I sat down to write this and found that I’d forgotten everything about it except how bland it was, which I think says all there is to say.
Yomawari: Night Alone
I am super not here for a game that tries to convince me how TOTES EDGY it is by suddenly for no reason bloodily murdering a dog 20 minutes in. This review seems to cover everything else.
I am so divided on Salt. On one hand, it’s an endearing, relaxing survivalist game. It’s like… ARK minus dinosaurs times Nintendo. It wants you to survive and explore, and the experience is truly relaxing and easygoing and honestly that’s nice to see from a game in this genre — the whole IT HAS TO BE SUPER HARDCORE thing tends to mean you have to sacrifice your life grinding to experience the game. Not so with Salt. The game is really focused on sailing and boatbuilding, and the feeling of setting out over the water to find new islands is a very good one. It’s constantly autosaving, so if you do die, you don’t get set back much. All the islands are full of fruit so you don’t starve. If you jump in the ocean you don’t get attacked by sharks and you can’t drown. And the effect is a good one — it’s a game that feels like a deep breath.
The problem with it, and the main reason it’s in this post, is that unfortunately the dev abandoned it. It looks like they did juuust enough to justify taking it out of EA and then gave up. And for all it does well, it does feel very unfinished. It never progressed to other boats being on the water, or adding villages to islands, or basebuilding, or a lot of the staples of the genre. There are only a handful of boats to build, there’s no music, and the AI is not. There are also still lots of bugs. Which is all a shame because it’s so close to being a very good and pretty unique game. I get that eventually you want to move onto new projects as a developer, but it is hugely disappointing. There’s just not enough here, certainly not enough for a $14.99 sticker price — that it some audacious shit. (I paid $3.74 for it which is the upper end of fair.)
This is actually the first time I’ve gotten burned by an EA purchase, incidentally. I don’t know if I’m particularly judicious, but I do buy EA games from some frequency and I’ve had a pretty great experience with the system — past purchases include ARK, My Time at Portia, Slime Rancher and Staxel. I guess I was kind of due for a dud.
Alicemare is a stupid game that hits just about every cliche possible for a video game that combines ‘horror’ and ‘fairytales.’ Every single thing that happens is just so overwrought and hackneyed at the same time that it’s impossible to be interested in any of it. ‘What if the boy who cried wolf MADE HIS MOM HANG HERSELF WITH HIS LIES 3edgy5me!!1!one’ And meanwhile the story itself is so stupidly vague and ~mysterious~ that apparently the dev felt the need to write a novelization of it to clarify things.
Ugly pixel graphics abound, and there’s basically no gameplay. You just walk around, and them someone is standing in your way and you have to solve a riddle to move them, and then you walk some more, etc. The riddles have nothing at all to do with the game — one is literally the sheep/wolves river-crossing puzzle. They’re so obviously just there to impede progress and not because they add anything at all to the experience.
This is a two-hour-long game I was ready to boredomquit at 15 minutes. This is why I never buy RPGmaker/WolfRPG games.
htol#NiQ/Hotaru no Nikki/Firefly Diary
Unlike most wordless games, this tells a coherent story. It instead makes the incomprehensible decision to hide the story behind hidden collectibles and impossible-without-a-guide hidden mechanics. I just don’t understand why you’d go through all the trouble to create this story and then make it so a huge swath of players will never see it. What is the bloody point??
I suspect this was to artificially inflate the playtime, because that’s the only explanation for about 80% of the design decisions here. The game is long swaths of timing puzzles without checkpoints, meaning you have the execute everything perfectly or do huge parts of the levels over again; rarely is dying a matter of not knowing what to do, but of not lining up hitboxes juuuuust right. The PC walks stupidly slowly; an absurd amount of this game is just her trundling along pathways. You have to replay levels multiple times to get the ‘true’ ending and let me tell you internet, I am so fucking sick of ~true endings~ why have games just stopped telling stories like normal goddamn people I have completely lost my patience for this YOUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER PLAYTHROUGH nonsense in modern games just commit to a fucking narrative!
Anyway, played straight through, including the credits, this game is about two and a half hours long but retails for $10. I got, according to Steam, 99 minutes in before getting so frustrated by the gameplay and its refusal to tell me its story that I quit in favor of a let’s play. I was immediately grateful because the puzzles just get more and more obtuse and needlessly punishing as time goes on. Then I couldn’t even take watching the LP anymore and just watched the story scenes chopped together.
All of this was to say that this game is incredibly unfun, and weirdly, seems to know but has no respect for anyone’s time and as such doesn’t give a shit. This is also my last attempt at an NIS game; I apparently played their only competently made game first and have given them more than enough tries to do something else to no avail. What a waste.