Welcome to another blog in this series scrutinizing (well, yapping about first impressions, really) the various games in the Experimental Game pack, given to those who supported the LA Game Space Kickstarter or have since supported it via their website. This will be the last one for a while, as I've reached the end of what is currently available. However, even after four parts, there's still a lot more to come down the line. We still have that Pendleton Ward game after all, and there's a few others they've been highlighting on their site that have yet to transpire. Certainly not the end of this series, not at all.
That said, I could only get five of the remaining seven games to run. I'd hoped to focus on six at a time with these blogs, but it appears me and my crummy PC promise a lot more than we can deliver. We have a couple more multiplayer games, a couple more arty experiments and one really fun game you're probably all well aware of by now. Let's get to it.
Sunshine, I feel, has the quintessential video-game-as-art-piece set-up. The game parts are entirely rudimentary; clearly a delivery device for the real meat of the piece, which are its audio and visual elements. Sunshine purports to reflect the artist's Australian upbringing, and the game's imagery certainly fills the bill: The player controls a dingo trying to eat colored tropical fruit as it falls from the top of the screen, and all the while a video clip is playing in the background that appears to be a bunch of outrageously-dressed young folk hanging out around a shopping mall of some sort. It felt like I was experiencing someone else's nostalgic flashback, which is an ongoing theme I've seen with a lot of these games, as well as a lot of Indie darlings (like Gone Home) in general. It's hard to articulate how effectively Sunshine is able to pull the player into its wistful daydream, so I won't.
I will discuss how it plays though: It greatly resembles one of those LCD Tiger or Game & Watch type affairs where you have a limited number of images that are projected onto a static backscreen, and the gameplay is simply moving left and right to collect falling fruit. It's a very primitive and recognizable style of interaction, so while it's experimenting with a few things with its presentation, the actual game parts are actually kind of basic and straightforward. It's more about combining imagery, sound and interaction than focusing too much on any one part of that equation.
It's an interesting piece. The initial impetus to collect fruit without letting them fall drops to the wayside like so many quandongs and muntries and whatever other uniquely Australian flora they eat over there after it becomes clear that such a goal is both impossible and an immutable part of the presentation; fallen fruit creates a musical sting that turns into a little tune of its own as several pieces hit the ground consecutively, thus the misses are clearly meant to be an element of the overall ensemble. Collecting fruit also splashes a bit of color across the screen too, though, so the player is left to decide how invested they are in collecting as much as they can. I won't be recommending Sunshine for Game of the Year or anything, but it's a stylish little diversion.
My Favourite Sinner
Like Pokey the Penguin's fair Arctic shores, this LA Game Space Round-Up has been invaded by the Italians. My Favourite Sinner is a two-player Flash game by Indie designers Molleindustria. Their Wikipedia page paints them as some sort of subversive political culture-jamming "guerrilla" game developers, but My Favourite Sinner is actually quite romantic and sweet. Well, sort of. As romantic and sweet as a damned pair of souls spinning forever in the second layer of Hell can be at least.
My Favourite Sinner sets itself up with a bilingual quote straight out of Dante's Inferno that sets up the simple concept: Two spirits, controlled by two people (the game's readme file suggests playing with one's significant other), who try vainly to get close enough for a quick kiss before the strong winds of the underworld pull them apart once again. The players only have the two sets of movement keys (WASD and the arrow keys) to get themselves closer to one another, and even playing on single player (which kind of felt like going to a rom-com on my own, frankly) it's not easy to co-ordinate the two. The perpetual tornado makes it a little disorienting, to say the least.
I will say that the game's notion that this would get couples in the mood seems a bit... unlikely. While the perpetual torment of two amorous souls being pushed apart is an achingly romantic conceit, the sound design makes it very clear that you're circling the abyss with the sort of distant anguished wailing that's often an aural indication that Gehenna beckons. Maybe that's the sort of thing that gets goths hot and bothered, I couldn't say. I clearly should've hung out in graveyards more often as a highschooler.
From one minimalist two-player experience to another, UU is a barebones affair (I think it's supposed to be written "uu") where each player takes the role of a vibrating vertical line. The goal is to simultaneously charge up a meter and then be the one to release last. Charging too long causes both players to overheat and hit a stalemate, and whichever can hold out longer will push the loser across the screen in a distance defined by how much longer they were able to hold on. So really it's an elaborate game of Chicken, but presented in a very no-frills manner.
There's definite precedence for a game like this taking off. We discussed LA Death Disk in the first part of this preview series, and how something like BaraBariBall or Hokra - games that have an interesting but minimal presentations that instead focus almost entirely on their competitive gameplay - can end up being hours of addictive fun. Of course, being able to judge this for myself would require another human being, and I'm fresh out of those for the time being. Chalk this up as another one of those games like LA Death Disk and Poocuzzi that could easily be a lot of fun with a bunch of people that I presently have no way of evaluating. Man, these reviews are really betraying my saddo reclusive nature, huh.
The game all three of you have been waiting for, VideoHeroeS is the frenetic VHS order-filling game that Patrick demonstrated quite maladroitly in his video rundown of the Experimental Pack. Well, "maladroitly" might be a bit harsh, since he actually perfectly encapsulated what it's like to play this game and the indecision that comes with choosing the "perfect" video for the customers' occasionally unreasonable requests.
VideoHeroeS, then, is a game in which you, as a video store clerk, simply needs to pick a video that suits the customer's description of what they want to watch. The absolutely genuine videos on offer are an eclectic bunch: A lot of big name movies like Predator, Total Recall, War of the Worlds and the like alongside B-Movies few people will have heard of (including myself), episode compilations from prominent (and not so prominent) 90s kid TV shows, foreign arthouse cinema, instructional videos, generic re-recordable VHS tapes that may or may not have bootleg movies recorded onto them and all sorts of miscellaneous curios that defy a neat and tidy definition. It's fun to simply browse the many VHS tapes (in high-res!) on offer and reminisce on those you might've seen as a younger person in Blockbuster's or a local Mom n' Pop equivalent, before you start having to fulfill the orders that come in thick and fast and request anything from giant bugs to ponies to swords to "I don't care, I hate everything".
The game was made by Fotonica's Santa Ragione, another Italian developer, who based VideoHeroeS on their earlier game Dustjacket - a game with a slightly more high-brow focus on Italian literature but with the same manner of "search a stack of things and find the right one" objectives. This is easily my favorite game in this entire bundle, at least so far. If you liked Gone Home's painstakingly detailed emphasis on 90s media ephemera and wish it had a bit more of a game to it, absolutely check this out.
I'll finish this batch off with Irrational Exuberance: a first-person exploration game created by Skulls of the Shogun developer Ben Vance. It takes a while to figure out what to do in this game; it evokes Myst (or maybe Proteus) in that it kind of drops you into an unusual but attractive 3D world without fanfare and tasks you with getting your own bearings and finding your own way to progress. I'm not opposed to a bit of investigation and discovery as long as it results in something tangible, and Irrational Exuberance does not disappoint.
Exploring the initial floating landmass eventually leads you to a few patches of flower petals which the player can "activate" by focusing the crosshairs on them. These crosshairs don't do anything else than to focus the player's power into whatever they're pointing at that isn't solid rock or an empty abyss. After dropping off a few floating rocks onto smaller floating rocks, I eventually found a cache of grey tiles that, once activated, allowed me to create them wherever I walked - a bit like those seen during Magneto's escape from his glass cell in X2. (I dunno why my mind went straight to that movie. I've been thinking lately about that Days of Future Past sequel that's in the works.) I explored for a little while longer but couldn't find anything as monumental as that grey tile discovery, but then the world had suddenly become a much larger place with the ability to go anywhere so it's very probable I simply couldn't find the next checkpoint. Or maybe it's because the game is still in Alpha and that's all there is to the game right now. It's a mysterious game, all right.
Perhaps the most mysterious thing about the game is the title: Irrational Exuberance is a term coined by economist Alan Greenspan regarding the dot-com bubble of the late 90s and everyone's shared delusion that such a prosperous internet age would never cease. I'm not sure it has any relevance to a game about burgeoning cosmic power, but on its own as a phrase it definitely has a certain poetry to it. Maybe that's why the term resonated to the point where it had a goofy Yatta-themed flash animation based on it (which is, of course, where I first heard it).
Anyway, I'm sad to say that I couldn't get Golden Age: Moths (Patrick did, though, so just check his QLS video) or IZLAGS to work. There's also one more game that's for Macs only, so that's out. Until the last ten games of this pack emerge, then, this'll be it for the time being. Thanks for checking these blogs out so far; there's definitely a few games worth checking out here, and I'm looking forward to discovering what the rest are like someday. See you all then.
|Part 1 - Alphabet, Control, Coureur de Bois, Depth, ESNF Fortune Teller, Game Space Space Game.|
|Part 2 - Guilded Youth, Inputting, LA Death Disk|
|Part 3 - Micomonocon, A Moth in Relay, Pachalafaka, Perfect Stride, Poocuzi, spiralsky.|
|Part 4 - Sunshine, To My Favourite Sinner, uu, VideoHeroeS, Irrational Exuberance.|