Human Fall Flat

QWOPlike puzzle platformer, good with friends, bleh without them. Bit pricey for what you get in my opinion.

Ed Note: Images are from the IGDB game press kit. You can tell because the characters pictured below are either blank, or some level of thoughtful creative outfit, and my custom character had a dick, and “Fuck Single Moms” written on his back.

I have been planning to write about Human Fall Flat for just about two years now. This draft has sat there, staring at me, patiently waiting for its moment to shine. Well, I’m dead out of energy to write about anything this week, so now’s your time to shine buddy. I’m gonna blow the dust off this post, and put it up.

Human Fall Flat is a cooperative, physics-based, 3d-puzzle game. And when I say physics, think physics in more of a QWOP sense than Half Life 2. As a single player game, I wouldn’t recommend it. As a co-op game, I think it can be a lot of fun with at least 3 players, and I have good memories of laughing my ass off while playing it with friends.

Look at all these tasteful, creative characters. Couldn’t be me!

This is because of how wonky the controls are. You move with WASD, and left/right mouse button correspond to grabbing with your left and right arms. This grabbiness is binary, meaning you can either be grabbing something, or not grabbing something, but there is no in between. In addition, while you “Move” with WASD, it’s less actual movement than it is making your small blob person waddle in the right direction.

All of this is deliberate. The main difficulty with many of the puzzles in Human Fall Flat is not the actual puzzle, but managing to complete the puzzle while having the acrobatic ability and dexterity of a drunk jellyfish.

It’s this combination of “The spirit is willing, but the flesh made out of marshmallow peeps,” along with the (usually) simple puzzles that made the game enjoyable for me. Trying and failing to make a simple jump is frustrating on your own, but it’s golden to watch your friend jump onto ledge, barely pull themselves up, and then get clubbed by a swinging log and sail into oblivion, all while listening to them curse over Discord.

Then it happens to you, and it’s a tragedy, but your friends are laughing.

This image is a pretty good summary of a lot of this game really.

All of this takes place across a wide variety of levels, with a pretty good smattering of goals and objectives. In my personal opinion, the earlier levels tend to be longer and more fun than some of the free DLC ones, but there’s a solid amount of content. By far my personal favorite was a level that involved piloting various types of boats, for a given definition of “pilot.” It would be more accurate described as “50% pilot, 50% hanging to the side of the rudder and begging someone to pull you up before you fall off and die.”

That’s really all I have to say on Human Fall Flat. As I’ve already noted, this is a game that really has to be played with friends. As a single player experience, I found it to be stale, and uninteresting.

The game is a bit pricey for what it offers at $20 a person, so my personal suggestion would be to wait for a sale before picking it up. I’d say $10 is closer to what it’s worth. The game is available on everything (seriously, pc, all major consoles, and phones for some reason) but doesn’t support crossplay as far as I’m aware, so if you and the gang do decide to grab it, make sure you all get it for the same platform.

If you still want to grab some copies, you can find it here for PC

Top 4 PAX East Games with Demos

Four cool things from the show floor that you can experience from the comfort of your own home.

So, you couldn’t make it to PAX. Perhaps you had other things to that week. Perhaps you had entirely reasonable concerns about the perpetual global endemic. Perhaps you were less than enthusiastic about the fact that ticket prices doubled since last time. Or perhaps you did make it to PAX but were working a booth the entire time.

Not to worry! I’ve compiled a list of four games that I played at PAX, really liked, and all have demos that you can go download from Steam. So lets jump in, shall we? Starting with…

Slay the Spire, with party mechanics and a metal vibe.

I like Power Chord. It’s a turn based roguelike, in which you control a literal band (musicians), on their quest to… look I wasn’t paying much attention to the story. I’m assuming you’re trying to kill the devil or something. The gameplay itself is very much like Slay the Spire, in that you have a deck of cards, and each turn you have energy that you expand to play them, and try to kill your opponents. Unlike Slay the Spire, your deck is contributed to by the members of your band. If that sounds interesting, you can click here to go grab a demo for the game on Steam, and here if want to just learn more about it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a release date just yet.

Perhaps turn based strategic gameplay sounds too relaxing though. In that case, next up we have…

I was gonna joke that the main character is named Turbo, but it turns out that’s actually his name, and now I don’t know what to put here.

Turbo Overkill is an entry in the boomer shooter genre, i.e., things like Doom, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, and Ion Maiden. These games are shooters that went “What if shooting things was fun, you had more than two weapons, and our entire graphics budget for polygons was stolen?” I will note that as a general rule of thumb, I’m little skeptical of boomer shooters at the moment. This is not because I dislike the genre, but because they always demo really well, even when I end up not liking the game as much (looking at you Desync.) Regardless of my whining, the demo was a lot of fun, and you can grab it here. Turbo Overkill is currently available in Early Access, and the devs have said that it’s 30% content complete. If you want more info about the game then you can check out their twitter feed here, because I couldn’t actually find another website.

Perhaps you want something softer and lighter, or perhaps you think crushing AI is for losers. In either case, may I offer..

I don’t love the art style, but the gameplay is good. I think they were probably going for a sort of Touhou vibe?

Swapette Showdown is a head to head match-3 puzzler. Blocks rise from the floor, you swap them into rows of at least 3 to clear them, and send trash lines to your opponent. You also have special abilities based on the character you select. Something like Puyo-Puyo is probably the closest equivalent? Look, instead of reading my poor description, why don’t you just download the demo here? And then, if you decide you like it, or have questions, or can’t quite get said demo to run right on your ultrawide even though you played it on a TV at the show, you can click here to join their Discord and try to troubleshoot.

But perhaps you hate anything with anime eyes. Perhaps you think indie games should never go past two dimensions. Perhaps you should just humor me because I’m running out of convenient segues. In that case, try…

I get that the little cat thing is supposed to be cute, but something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. It has big Furby energy.

Dwerve is technically a tower defense game. You construct towers, and use them to defend. The reason I wrote “technically” is because it has a lot of non-standard tower defense mechanics. There is no end point to be defended. Instead when you get into combat, enemies will go right for your delicious face meat. Towers refund their cost when they get destroyed, and you’ll be expected to rebuild them. And finally, the game isn’t structured as a series of levels; it’s a world that you actually travel through more akin to something like Nobody Saves the World. It’s a really interesting blend, and you can play the demo here. The full steam page is here, the game’s site is here, and I’m kind of out of things to say about it. Oh, except that it does have a release date for the end of next month (31st of May) so if you do end up liking the demo, you won’t won’t have to wait long for more.

Anyway, with that final entry on the list, that concludes all I’m writing about for the moment. Not all I have to write about, because I have a second window up of things I saw/played, and I still have 21 more games I want to write about. I need to find a way to break that list down into convenient bite size categories.

I think the way you’re supposed to end these sorts of lists is to encourage people to fight with you on social media as a roundabout cover for getting more interaction, so yeah. So, hit us up on Twitter if you disagree with our list? Not really sure how that’s possible, but I’m sure someone will find a way.

Mad Rat Dead

Good, and supremely fucking weird. And the music BANGS.

Mad Rat Dead is a rhythm game that eschews quite a few of the genre conventions. I’m not a big rhythm game person, but I like it, and had a good time with it. It’s also incredibly fucking weird, like, weird even by my expectations of games from Nippon Ichi Software. If the name rings a bell, good! If it doesn’t, they’re the publishers of Disgaea and a bunch of other smaller stuff.

I can’t find a good splash screen image, so you get this instead.

The plot of Mad Rat Dead is… Hmm. Look, all you really need to know at the start is that you’ve been brought back to life by the Rat God to relive your last day prior to death, and fulfill your wish, which in your case is to kill the human who kept you in a cage all your life. There is more to it than that, but I will say that the game concludes fairly gracefully and satisfyingly. Anything else risks the dreaded spoilers. Onto the gameplay!

There are two types of levels in Mad Rat Dead: standard levels, and boss levels. Both have the same general rules. There is no life or health system. Instead, get hit, you die. Fall into a pit? You die. Touch spikes? You die. When you die, you get the ability to roll back time in increments of about a half a second, and then continue from that point. The main pressure comes from the beat timer. With each beat, it counts down, and if it gets to zero, you fail the level and have to start over. Rolling the timer back doesn’t roll back the beat timer, so the real loss from being killed is losing time.

Note: The game does have a mode where the beat timer isn’t active, and you can take as much time as you want to clear a level. I didn’t play in that mode, because…. well honestly because I derive at least some sense of self worth from playing games on the harder difficulties.

It sure is.

The most unique thing about Mad Rat Dead is that it’s a combo of a platformer and a rhythm game. It doesn’t require you to make specific inputs, unlike most rhythm games. Instead, you have fairly standard platforming controls (jump, dash, charge, ground pound) and movement, but your button inputs have to be to the beat. If they aren’t, they fizzle and don’t do anything. It also eats the next incoming beat, so you can’t just mash your way victory.

I really enjoy this for the most part. It feels really good to string movements together, and build your own combos and patterns. There are some points where the game does one of two things that make pulling a movement off a bit frustrating.

The first one is that it deliberately switches up the beat, slowing it down or speeding it up at certain portions on some levels. While this is obviously intentional, it often threw me off my game. As a general rule of thumb, I enjoyed the levels that were primarily either stationary or had many moving enemies, much more than I enjoyed the levels with either moving platforms or semi-tangible cheese platforms.

The second thing that messes with the “make your own beat” vibe is that the game has sections that feel like they really only have one solution in terms of inputs, and so if you mess up or die, you have to roll back the whole section, and restart. These felt quite jarring compared to the rest of the levels. Even the boss fights allow a fairly large amount of freedom, and having that taken away just felt bad.

Death incoming in 3, 2, 1…

The game’s not super long, but it’s fairly well polished. If you do choose to play Mad Rat Dead, there’s one movement mechanic that isn’t super well explained: the lock-on dash. On many of the levels, you’ll find enemies that can be used as bounce pads/chain jump location. In order to actually do this though, there’s two conditions that have to be met.

The first is that you have to be close enough to the enemy, but the second is that you also need to have not used one of your two double jumps, and your jumps only refresh when you hit an enemy, or touch the ground. The game never explicitly says this, so there was a large portion of time where I couldn’t figure out if I wasn’t close enough an enemy for the lock on reticle to appear, or if I’d just jumped twice.

I think I’d have raged a lot less if the game had ever explained how this works. That or I just didn’t read the prompts in the tutorial level.

So much good music.

As this is a rhythm game, it has music. Let’s talk about that music.

The music is fantastic and is actually the reason I even picked the game up. After listening to the soundtrack 7-8 times on YouTube, I realized I should probably play the actual game, and I’m writing this as I listen to it again. Since I’m a game person and not really a music person, I can’t tell you what genre it is, but I think it probably counts as club/EDM? If you’re into Japanese music or vocaloid, you’ll probably recognize a few of the names including DYES IWASAKI and Camellia.

I enjoyed Mad Rat Dead. It’s a unique rhythm game with solid gameplay, incredibly weird story, acid trip art, and incredibly good music. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, I hope you own either a Switch or PS4, because those are the only two consoles you can play it on. If you’re still on the fence, it also has a demo on Switch, which I’m gonna link here, and a demo on PS4, which you can grab here.

Ed Note: Game screenshots are taken from the Mad Rat Dead NIS page.

CRIMESIGHT

A fantastic asymmetric social deduction game.

CRIMESIGHT is an asymmetric social deduction game, and it’s fantastic. It might be my favorite giga-brain moment sort of game, and it makes you feel very smart, as long as you don’t scuff up wins that you have in the palm of your hand.

Which I’ve done a few times to be honest.

In order to talk about what I like about CRIMESIGHT, I’m gonna briefly cover how the game works. There are going to be several paragraphs going over the game’s mechanics. If you don’t want to read any more, here’s my summary of why I like the game: it’s full of incredibly clever mindgames and bluffing linked to an interesting balance of resources and information between the two competing sides.

A screenshot of a game of CRIMESIGHT in progress. I think I lost this one.

A game of Crimesight is played over up to 10 rounds, on a single map consisting of multiple rooms and areas, and with 6 pawns. One pawn is the Killer, and one pawn is the Target.

First, a little bit more about pawns. Pawns start the game with nothing, regardless of their roll. Each pawn can carry up to two items, and has two health slots. They can also carry a single weapon. Weapons do not take up an item slot, and cannot be dropped once picked up. Every three rounds, the day ends, and pawns need to eat, or else they will become hungry. Hunger, like any other injury in the game, puts a token into one of the health slots. A pawn with one slot occupied can only move up to two spaces per round, and pawn with two slots occupied can only move 1 space per round, and is also blinded.

Each round, the players in the game may issue a number of commands to pawns, determined by the player’s allegiance, and the number of other players in the game. These commands consist of a movement command, and an action. First, movement. Each pawn can move up to three areas in one round. If they move more than two areas, though, they get fatigued, and will only be able to move twice in the next round. Then the pawn does an action. The action can be to search an area for food, to use an item on a location or another pawn, or to interact with an object. Pawns always move, and then take an action; they cannot do otherwise.

Let’s talk about the two allegiances, Moriarty or Sherlock, and the differences between the two.

The Moriarty player wins if they can have the killer pawn murder the target pawn. In order to do this, three conditions must be met. The killer must have a weapon, the killer must be in the same area as the target, and there can be no witnesses with line of sight. If the Moriarty player fails to pull this off in 10 rounds, the best they can hope for is a draw.

The Moriarty player also has several special advantages. They can see which nodes on the map contain food, weapons, or special items/objects. They start the game knowing the target and killer. In addition, if both Sherlock and Moriarty command the same pawn, Moriarty’s commands always win out, and will overwrite Sherlock’s. Moriarty can also always command pawns to move up to three spaces, even if the pawn is fatigued. Finally, they have access to a single special command, “assail,” which can only be used by the killer. When the assail command is executed, the killer will delay their action until the end of the round, and then move as close as they can to the target, and if their end location meets the criteria for committing murder, they will do so.

There are downsides to the assail command, however. Using it will reveal the killer and target, and if the killer does not reach the target that turn, there is a single final turn, after which if they cannot pull off the murder, Sherlock wins.

The Moriarty player also has one weakness: they cannot issue commands to the pawn designated as the target.

The Sherlock player has none of the advantages listed above. They start the game being able to see that 2-3 of the searchable areas have food in them. They don’t know anything about the rest of the nodes. They also start out not knowing who is the target, and who is the killer. There are only three advantages that the Sherlock player has over Moriarty.

For reference on why I included this photo: I played a game as Sherlock that went to 10 rounds. There was one obvious target, and an obvious villain. But, I thought to myself, what if the “target” wasn’t the villain, and the obvious villain wasn’t either, but Moriarty was instead using them to make us move the actual villain right next to the real target? AND I WAS 100% CORRECT. And this victory screen is from that game. Gigabrain strats.

The first is that the Sherlock players can issue more commands to pawns than Moriarty. The Sherlock player can also command any pawn, including the target. At the end of every day, they get additional information from “deductions,” where the game will tell Sherlock if the Killer is within 3 areas of the target, and based on that, narrow down potential killers and their victims.

The game has a really interesting balance of power and information going on. When the game starts, Moriarty knows everything, but has almost no “resources” (i.e., the killer doesn’t have a weapon, all of the pawns are fairly bunched together to prevent murder attempts, and they’re also all healthy making it easy to run the target away from the killer). On the flip side, the Sherlock player has the board state where they want it, (no wounded pawns, pawns all close to each other so Moriarty can’t move a single witness away from a murder attempt, no gas leaks, dogs, etc) but zero information about who they need to protect from whom.

As the game continues, the balance of power starts to shift. The balance of resources and board state shift into Moriarty’s favor as pawns split up to search the map for food, pick up weapons, or end up hungry if they fail to find any. However, Sherlock gets more and more information: each time the two clash by commanding a pawn, more info is revealed to Sherlock about can’t be the target. The end of day deductions also potentially cut out large swathes of possible murder/target combos.

I do want to talk about the game’s multiplayer modes a bit though. There can be multiple players on the Sherlock team, or multiple on both teams. So far I’ve played the 1v1, 2v2, and 3v1 modes, and I vastly prefer 1v1 and 3v1.

While the game supports up to four players, there can only ever be one player aligned with Moriarty, in 2v2. The second non-Sherlock player controls Irene.

In the 1v1 modes, the game is fairly straightforward, since each player knows who the other player is. 1v3 is where things get interesting, because as a Sherlock player, you start the game not knowing which of the other 3 players is playing Moriarty. I find this neat because it lends an extra level of trying to read other player’s moves and actions, which isn’t present in the base game, and also lets you play more mind games as Moriarty.

This brings me to 2v2, and why I don’t enjoy it or the Irene roll very much. When playing the Irene roll, you effectively play a weaker version of Sherlock, but on the side of Moriarty. You can only command one pawn, you can’t see the location of items, you do know the victim and target, but you can’t use the assail command. It can be amusing, but it still feels like a fairly weak roll.

On the flip side, it’s not much fun to play against Irene either. Unlike Moriarty, if Irene issues a command to a Pawn at the same time as Sherlock, it’s a toss up on whose action goes through. And even if Irene wins out, it doesn’t give any information to the Sherlock player about who is/isn’t a target.

Outside of that one thing, I don’t really have any issues with the game. The game’s text display can be a bit frustrating, and there isn’t really a good option between “Tell me all the rules each time something happens” and “Tell me nothing,” but that’s pretty much it.

So that’s CRIMESIGHT in a nutshell, an asymmetric social deduction game for up to 4 players. I find it incredibly fun, and setting up either clever kills, or blocking them makes you feel smart. If all of this sounds like your cup of tea, you can buy CRIMESIGHT here on Steam. It’s $20, and it’s worth it.

Stacklands

Stacklands is cool! But short. But also only $5! So I recommend it.

Click this image and get the game!

I like Stacklands. Like many things that I enjoy, I wish there was more of it. But for what it cost, and what I got, I’m satisfied, and I feel confident recommending it. I have a few minor gripes, but in my time playing, I didn’t encounter any major bugs or flaws. So yeah, I recommend it.

Stacklands is also the first time I’ve played something by Sokpop Collective that I’ve really liked. Before Stacklands I’d kind of written them off as an indie arthouse studio, partly because I’m an asshole, and partly because they didn’t seem to make games with gameplay.

I’ve used the word “Engine Builder” more than I usually would in recent writing, at least for writing about video games, but I think it’s pretty accurate for Stacklands. I guess you could call it a progressive management game instead, but that just sounds like your boss decided switch the team to a 4 day work week.

A clean, untouched board. Don’t worry, that won’t last long.

In any case, here’s how Stacklands works: to start, you’re given a single booster pack of cards. After opening it, you’ll get a few different cards, and a villager. The other cards are also important, but if all your villagers die, you lose.

At least to start, most cards require you to place a villager on them to generate a resource. That’s kind of a cop out, but let me give a few examples. The Berry Bush card does nothing on its own, but when a villager is placed on it, the villager will harvest 3 berries from that card before it disappears. The same is true for cards like the iron ore vein, or trees, though they give different resources. However, some cards like the lumberyard and quarry, can’t be exhausted. They can be harvested any number of times (though usually slower then the impermanent cards).

Villager working on a Berry Bush. Gif shamelessly stolen from the Stacklands itch.io Page.

So, how do you get cards ? There are two primary methods. The first is to buy card packs. You buy them with coins, and almost every card has a coin value. You can unlock several types of card back, and even if you die, pack types that you unlock stay purchasable. Each pack gives different subsets of cards, and while some are available in multiple packs, most pack types have at least one or two unique cards. They also have ‘ideas’.

Ideas are the game’s recipes. You only have to unlock them once in order to be able to use them in future runs. In order to use them, you place the required items on top of each other. A countdown starts, and when it finishes, you get the item from the recipe. One minor annoyance I have is that while you can use a recipe without discovering it, the game doesn’t reveal those recipes if you find them by luck or clever experimentation. You still have to get the idea card.

I like farms and carrots. Can you tell?

Villagers can die in a couple different ways. It’s possible that you don’t have enough food to feed them all at the end of a round, and so they starve to death. It’s also possible that an enemy just murders them. Enemies can spawn from exploring certain locations, or buying certain card packs. They can also be spawned by a mysterious portal, which show up on specific numbered rounds. There is one more way to spawn an enemy, but that one’s a bit secret, so I’m not gonna spoil it here.

There are also some other mechanics that I haven’t really covered here, including exploring, villager promotions, and storage limits, but I also don’t have anything useful to say about them in the context of this review.

I do have two gripes with Stacklands, one of which is legitimate, and the other I think might be a design choice, but it’s a design choice that I find really annoying! The second strikes me as something that might have been intended to function like that.

First, the legitimate gripe! When you mouse over a card pack to buy it, you’re given a slowly scrolling list of text in the bottom left corner that lists what you can get in the card pack, and I hate this. I hate having to wait for the scrolling to see what I could get, and I really wish I could either click on the card pack to see a list, or have the text box expand or something. I really wish I could see everything at once.

Second, the “I just don’t like this design choice” gripe. There are a variety of cards that produce cards either when you put a villager to work on them, or when you place various resources on them. It’s never really clear to me where the produced cards will end up. Let’s use the farm as an example. You can plant a crop on top of the farm card. When the farm card finishes ticking down, a new card is created. But when a farm produces, the new card(s) appear someplace next to the farm. Since I was growing carrots by the truckload, I then had to 1. Replant the carrots and 2. Keep moving carrots around to keep everything organized.

Like. A LOT of Farms.

Stacklands as a game isn’t long enough for this to become super tedious, and I feel like this is a specific design choice to make growing certain crop types more mentally taxing, but I did find it annoying.

Stacklands is $5 on itch.io, and $5 on Steam. Gametrodon editorial policy, dictates that “The people that make games should be the people that make money.” So buy it off itch.io rather than Steam. Look, you’re probs gonna buy off Steam anyway, so I’m going to make you google it.