Didn’t Make the Cut – itch.io Racial Justice Bundle

All filler, no killer.

Another week, another set of games from the itch.io racial justice bundle. These are primarily games that simply didn’t get their own full article about them, either because there wasn’t really a lot to say (LAZAKNITEZ), I couldn’t play them (Troika), because I refuse to do so out of spite and dislike for the game (Oikospiel). Having said that, let’s get to the games

LAZAKNITEZ – PC/Multiplayer/Singleplayer
LAZAKNITEZ almost works for starting a trend of games with names that are nonsense words, until you boot up the game and realize that it’s just a very 90’s spelling of Laser Knights. And that’s exactly what the game is. You slide around a 2D plain, jousting on the back of your laser horse, and firing from your laser lance. I played this one for a few rounds and then put it down. It’s not bad. Just very light on things to do/see. Once I’d played a bit, and felt like I had seen most of the powerups, I was done.

Oikospiel Book 1 – PC/Singleplayer
I don’t like Oikospiel. I think that it’s stupid. It plays and looks like a fever dream made by someone who just imported every 3D model they could get their hands on into Unity and it should also probably come with an epilepsy warning.

Oikospiel is what you would get if you took Timecube and made it into a video game instead of a website. I have some questions for whoever made this game, and primarily they’re things like: “Are you okay?” and “Do you need help?”

TroikaPen and Pencil RPG
Mechanically, I didn’t see much in Troika that impressed me, but I also didn’t actually run a game. The initiative system seems neat, in which you randomly draw tiles from a bag and then whoever’s tile you drew takes a turn.

The flavor though, is incredible, and I honestly wish there was more of it. It has a very old-timey science fiction sort of vibe, and the closest thing I can think to compare it to is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, or perhaps the sorta of weird science-magic of The Wizard of Oz.

For example: the book has stats for a sort of snake that doesn’t sneak up on you, but instead offers reassurances and a well placed “It’s alright, I’m here now” in order to get you between its coils so that it might crush and eat you. The starter adventure in the book involves convincing a sentient gas in the elevator with you that you would really like it if it could take up a bit less of the elevator, on account of the fact that it’s drowning you. The stat block for a “Tea Set” gives you a bonus on etiquette checks as long as you have time to prepare tea for the person you’re trying to impress.

The reason that Troika doesn’t get a larger section to itself is primarily that since this is a website for reviewing games, and I haven’t run a game of it yet, I can’t review it. But definitely worth a read.

Wrap-Up

Nothing this week that really jumped out at me. I loathe Oikospiel, LAZAKNITEZ reminds me of the sorts of things I’d play for 20 minutes before switching to something else on sites like Newgrounds. Troika is a fun read, but I feel like it would be tricky to pull off without a party that was really willing to lean into the weird-wonderness. If playing these games is the art of separating wheat from chaff, this week was all chaff, no wheat. Take care, and I’ll put more stuff up as events warrant.

Minit

Minit doesn’t utilize its unique mechanic effectively, and with that stripped away, it isn’t anything special.

Minit is well made, but I didn’t actually have fun playing it. The art and music is good, but the actual gameplay never delivers on the presumptive core mechanic. There. With that out of the way, I can now make a random introductory paragraph that only serves to set up the rest of the article.

After all the chaos that has been the last few weeks, I’ve finally returned to the itch.io racial bundle in search of gems and weird experimental stuff. And so I downloaded Minit, played it, and now I’m going to write this article. Like I mentioned above, I didn’t really enjoy Minit, but I need to describe the game’s core mechanic first in order to explain why.

Minit itself feels like it’s 2D Zelda inspired. You pick up a sword, venture around looking for treasure, and slowly get upgrades and equipment that allow you to progress further around the world. Oh, and you can pick up hearts to increase the number of hearts you have.

The unique mechanic, though, is that the game is played in one minute increments. At the end of 60 seconds, your character dies, and you spawn in again at your starting point. However, any progress you made in the world remains.

The minimalistic art style is neat though.

And this is my biggest problem with Minit: it barely ever uses this 60 second loop to do anything interesting. Instead, it just forces you to go fast, and to restart over and over again. There were three instances in the game that I saw where the loop was actually relevant. One is a character that doesn’t show up until the last 10 seconds of the loop that you need to talk to, one is plant that you water to grow between loops, and one is an NPC that talks slowly, so you need to talk to him at the very start of a run to see his full message. And that’s it. Not the most exciting things in the world.

Everything else in the game works completely independent of this 60 second loop, and it can turn things into a bit of a slog. While the loop does help by resetting puzzles that you can accidentally make unsolvable, it means that when you start wanting to explore or search for things, you’re on a timer. When you try to fight anything, you’re on a timer. There was one point where I spent several lives just walking around and dying because I missed a small set of stairs that were visible in the wall, and as such, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I can’t recommend Minit, and I especially can’t recommend it at its $10 price tag. The game is very short, taking me just about 2 hours to beat. It doesn’t do anything interesting with its unique mechanic, and with that mechanic stripped away, it’s a very simple Zelda-esque title. If for some reason you still wanna buy it, here’s the link to itch.io, and it’s also available on Steam.



Odd Realm

Odd Realm has promise, but just isn’t finished yet.

I really like Odd Realm. I’ve played a bunch of it prior to writing this review, most likely 10-15 hours and I want to be able to recommend it… Right now, I have two big reasons I can’t, and a few small ones. If you already own the game from the itch.io racial justice bundle, or some other event, you should play it. But if you don’t own it yet, you may want to wait until a full release.

Odd Realm is a colony builder, and has the most in common with Dwarf Fortress. You pick a starting race, pick a place to start, and then proceed to try to keep your settlers alive. Doing so requires making sure they have water and food if you picked humans. Or they might require chambers in which keep their animate bodies forever functional, if you picked the immortal skeleton race. Y’know. Normal stuff.

I mentioned two big reasons I can’t recommend Odd Realm just yet, and they are the following: First, the game is buggy. And second, it feels fairly content-lite compared to its obvious inspiration of Dwarf Fortress.

Let’s talk about the bugs first. 95% of the time, the game runs smoothly. I’ve had no crashes, or straight failures, even if I have had points where stuff gets a bit laggy for a moment.

5% of the time, something weird will happen and the game will just die. I’ve listed a few examples below.

  1. Settlers decide that the most fascinating thing to do is to all simultaneously move back and forth onto a resource deposit zone, instead of doing anything else you might want them to do.
  2. Settlers get stuck in the move action, and refuse to actually move.
  3. Settlers move jerkily and refuse to take any additional actions.
  4. Settlers don’t move resources to appropriate resource deposit zones.
  5. Production queue of items, and information just absolutely dies.
  6. If you make the mistake of digging underwater, prepare to watch as your game slows to an absolute crawl.

The problem isn’t that these bugs are common. They really aren’t. The problem is that they absolutely destroy the game when they occur. I was having a hard time writing this review, so I fired up the game to try to figure out what I wanted to say about it, only to spend more time trying to figure out why I could no longer manufacture glass panes, and spend an hour or so trying to fix the issue.

To the developers’ credit, they seem to be aware of this issue, and fairly active on their Discord in requesting sessions and save states to try to patch the problems, but right now, having your entire fortress just blow up because of of a stupid bug feels real bad.

The second big issue is that the game feels very content-lite at the moment. There are only 4-5 types of ore, and they all function more or less the same, but with better stats. The same thing feels true of most of the plants you can grow. There are only a few pieces of gear, a few spell books, etc. Some types of stone can be used for making roofs, but not for anything else. Right now, once you have rooms set up, there just isn’t a lot to do.

There are a bunch of other little things that I find annoying, like not being able to tell settlers things like “Stay in here, don’t go outside” and the number of random events being exceedingly limited. But these are all minor.

This is why I think if you don’t already own the game, but find it interesting, you should wait until release. Many of the bugs and glitches will hopefully be ironed out. And hopefully they’ll also be a lot more to do. But right now, Odd Realm is a bit buggy, a bit frustrating, and still unfinished.

P.S. If you do have Odd Realm, play the Ancients race instead of humans. They are way more fun.

Didn’t Make the Cut #2

Another week or two, another set of games that just didn’t hold my interest long enough for me to give them their own full article.

Welcome to Didn’t Make the Cut #2, where we continue our way through all the games in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle that just didn’t want to make me play them. The ordering here doesn’t reflect anything other than how interesting I thought they were. These are all the things that just didn’t keep my interest long enough to warrant a full article.

Extreme Meatpunks Forever

I can’t write an entire article about Extreme Meatpunks Forever because I didn’t play the game for longer than like 20 minutes. I feel like this was a fair shake, but I really wasn’t feeling it.

Like, here is the summary of the game from its itch.io page.

A visual novel/mech brawler about gay disasters beating up neonazis in giant robots made of meat.

Heather

Which is. I dunno. I think you can probably read that and decide if the game is for you or not.

My one sentence review of the game would be this: the game feels like a playable Zine. The game feels very cobbled together. The backgrounds are ASCII, the characters are single images, and the writing wobbles between really neat sci-fi and dialogue that doesn’t include things like capitalization and punctuation.

This one just wasn’t for me.

Music was fucking banging though.

Walden

I can’t find my notes for Walden, but more or less, it feels like a very light survival simulator.

There’s a type of game that exists which is biblical or religious, and they tend to exist in order to try to get you interested whatever religion or such they’re selling. The problem is, they tend to be made by people who are religious first, and game designers second. The intended result is usually to use the game like the lure on the end of those deep sea fish, where the fish’s jaws metaphorically represent joining whatever cult made the thing in the first place.

Usually they’re not very successful, because the other fish (game companies) have far more exciting lures, and those fish jaws only represent things like microtransactions and loot boxes. And I guess the risk of becoming a pathological gambler is better than becoming a member of the Mason family?

Regardless, Walden feels like a game made by that sort of person. Except instead of trying to convince you to give them your life savings and move to a commune in Pripyat to be one with the Everglow the Light Mother, the designers of Walden seem to want you to read the book that inspired them to make the game. If this was their goal, I think they kinda succeeded.

I’m actually fairly curious about reading Walden (the book) now. Maybe avoid it if you’re afraid of “transcendentalist philosophy.” (Apparently that’s what the book’s about. I just stole this from Wikipedia, so I hope it’s right.) Still not gonna play any more of the game though.

If you’re still interested in Walden, you can find it here.

Art Sqool

In Art Sqool, you walk around a weird world and draw things, given instructions and graded by what I assume is Microsoft’s mascot Clippy’s brother who got into hard drugs instead of software development. You can pick up more brushes and colors in this world, but that’s it. It’s not really a platformer in any typical sense. It’s mostly just exploration across the “Campus,” which gives the impression of what a wasting illness called “Clipart” would look like on skin.

Whenever I’m playing through these games, I like to take some brief notes that I can review later in order to give thoughtful, detailed opinions. For example, this is what I wrote about Extreme Meatpunks Forever.

-At least it’s a game
-Not a very interesting one
-Seems like it’s mostly visual novel
-I do not care about these characters
-Some aspects of the worldbuilding seem cool
-Rad Music

My Dumb Review Notes for Meatpunks

“Now wait”, you think. Isn’t this bit supposed to be about Art Sqool? Well yes, dear reader, it is. But I present those notes as an example. Let’s now look at the notes for Art Sqool.

-This ain’t a game
-Why does this exist
-Remember kids, when making games, don’t forget to include gameplay
-I hate this

My Dumb Review Notes for Art Sqool

Now, given that all interactive visual media can be more or less considered a game, and after discussion with someone else, I’d like to present the following quote.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a definition for art that wasn’t stupid. Generally speaking, when a person constructs a thought-machine of this kind, what they’re actually trying to do is determine what isn’t art.

Jerry Holkins

And to be fair the same is true of games. Saying that something is or isn’t a game is arbitrary, and as such, I’m willing to concede that the first line of my notes is wrong.

In a secondary non-concession to the fact that this is still my article to write, I’m not linking the game here. I think it’s stupid, bad, and I loathe it. Fuck Art Sqool.

That’s all I got for today. Until next time.

Beacon

You can pass on Beacon. You will not miss anything. This entire article is just me being grumpy about every aspect of this poorly designed and carefully made exercise in frustration.

I wanted to like Beacon. I really did. But overall right now, given that the game isn’t even finished, I can’t recommend it. So what is Beacon, why might you want to play it, and why should you avoid it?

Beacon is a top down real time isometric roguelike. It’s interesting if nothing else for actually not being 2D, despite the fact that the player doesn’t have a jump, and the whole game takes place in 3D environments. Interesting isn’t the same as good though, so we’ll come back to that later.

So why shouldn’t you play Beacon? Well, for starters, the game isn’t actually finished. Currently you can play through about six stages, and then the game just kills you at the end, because there isn’t anything else there. Secondly, it seems somewhat unstable. It took me less than 10 runs to get to the end of the current final area in the game. The only reason it isn’t a lower number is because the game crashed on a very good run early on, and forced me to restart.

Let’s say you don’t care about these reasons. Well, Beacon does very little that’s actually new. The game plays like a Frankenstein of mechanics. Each run starts by selecting the DNA you’re going to use for the run. This includes things health, stamina (yes, they’re two different things), armor, crit, luck, and I stopped caring because there are too many of them. This is followed by the DNA being sequenced, at which point any DNA mods you got are applied, and DNA has a chance to mutate, which permanently changes functionality of your character during the run. You arm might split open and replace your melee attack with a sonic projectile. You might get the ability to…. lifesteal while set on fire. Or maybe your legs just become pus-filled blobs that leave a trail of slime whenever you dash. It doesn’t really matter though, because:

1. Most of these end up playing the same, and

2. You’ll get multiple runs with those pieces of DNA, after which they die, and you can’t use them anymore.

I couldn’t see a pattern in which specific mutations actually occur, so I couldn’t, for example, use DNA to build a fire-based build, or anything. Also, some mutations are just boring. I had one that just massively decreased crit, on DNA that I had picked to increase crit.

Cool. So, since that’s done, let’s actually play. Each level is randomly generated, but ends up following a pretty similar pattern. Throughout your run, you’ll pick up DNA to use for future runs, guns, side equipment, sidearms and grenades.

Taking a step back for a minute, weapons are one of the few things that feel like they’re done correctly. Many of them are quite interesting (bone boomerang gun) and extra weapons can be recycled for ammo mods, which give a permanent boost for the rest of the run to your remaining weapons.

Grenades are worthless. I don’t know why they’re in the game, and I don’t know why you’d use them. They’re boring, pointless, and hard to aim.

Okay, now let’s talk about pickups and auxiliary. I don’t know which one is which, and I do not care. All you need to know is that the game lets you have one of each, and the grouping of items in these slots makes no sense.

For example: an item that gives you a chance to fully reload your magazines on kill, as a passive. Or a 5-use boost jump. An item that caps your health at 75, but gives you permanent health regeneration. Or a 10-use of a set of daggers that lifesteal if you hit with them.

There is literally no reason to ever pick up the consumables instead of the passive boost ones, the passive are just that much better. Also, unlike guns, these can’t be recycled for ammo mods. You can destroy them to get a single extra grenade. Hooooorayyy.

This brings me to my biggest gripe with the game overall: the art.

Beacon has beautiful art, but it’s almost entirely counter productive to the actual gameplay, i.e. being a fast-paced run and gun roguelike. The readability of the screen is garbage. Everything is done in a sort of low poly style, but instead of making it easier to tell whats going on, it’s messed up with tons of unnecessary detail, lighting, and other graphical crap. My favorite example of this would be the fact that slime and acid look almost exactly the same, but one is simply an armor reducing debuff, and the other is a DOT that can kill you.

Oh, and speaking of death, the game has insta-deaths. Falling off a ledge won’t kill you, but if you make the unfortunate error of somehow ending up on top of a bunch of spikes, that’s it. Run over.

There are good moments in Beacon: the dodging can feel nice, the weapons are cool. But the game feels like a bloated Frankenstein monster. It tries to do too much all at once, and ends up a playing like someone tried to make an ice-cream shake by going to a variety of fast food joints, ordering a small milkshake at each, then taking them home, shoving them into a blender, straw, cup, lid and all, and then just lighting the thing up. Drinking this shake means that sometimes you’ll get strawberries and chocolate, and sometimes you’ll get strawberries and small shards of plastic.

Also, the game is cakewalk fucking easy. You’ll spend more time being annoyed at trying to figure out where you need to go than you will in interesting fights.

I feel bad about tearing things to shit.

A Mortician’s Tale

Short, interesting content, more akin to a visual novel. Very little gameplay or player agency.

I picked up the Racial Justice Bundle at least in part because I wanted to expose myself to a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise play. I also started this blog mostly to recommend games to other people. (And to like, pretend to be a game journalist, but same difference.)

This puts me in a bit of a bind regarding A Mortician’s Tale. Aspects of the writing for the game seem extremely strong and well thought out, but as a game, I’d say it’s far closer to a visual novel. The gameplay, at least as far as it’s present, has almost no player agency. I’ll talk about why I feel this way in a moment, but my overall verdict on the game would be this:

A Mortician’s Tale as a game is likely to appeal to individuals who like short, experimental things. The game took about 45 minutes to an hour for me to complete, and that was while reading most of the in-game emails from NPC’s. It has very little replay value outside re-reading text. Unless you have an curiosity for the subject matter (death and funerals) or experimental indie projects, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it.

Despite all that, it’s worth noting that I didn’t put the game into a “Didn’t Make The Cut” article because I did find it fairly interesting and thought-provoking. Let’s talk about that, and also, a brief warning: this article is about to sorta reach that point that most online recipes do, where it says very little about the actual thing you came to the article for (game stuff) and a lot more about the author of the article.

There are three main sections to the game: Preparing Bodies, Attending a Funeral, and Reading Emails. I’m just gonna go through em real quick in that order.

Preparing Bodies is the majority of the “gameplay”-like aspect of A Morticians Tale, and it’s pretty similar in execution to something like Trauma Center: Under the Knife or maybe Cooking Mama. You have a variety of tools that you use in order to accomplish things, but the main kicker is that you actually cannot screw this up. Like, the game will not let you use a tool incorrectly, or at the wrong point in time.

On the one hand, I get it. If you make a death-positive game about the importance of what happens with people after they die, letting the player poke a smiley face into the body of a teenager who killed himself might not fit the tone.

On the other hand, it means that the extent of actual gameplay in the game is limited/non-existent. While being guided through the actions of preparing a body is interesting, the fact that there is no real need to focus or learn anything. After the first body, I more or less just clicked and went as fast as possible, because you don’t actually have to learn anything, and the game doesn’t let you screw up. Anything interesting in this section of the game is limited to learning about the process that is used to prepare a body to be displayed.

Next we have Attending the Funeral. I found this to be a weaker part of the game, as it mostly consists of listening to 4-5 people talk in discussions that are less than a paragraph, and then leaving. Here’s why I’d consider it weaker.

I’ve been to maybe five or six funerals, most of them before I was 18. Almost all have been generally Christian as far as funerals go, but the people in them are fairly different. Off the top of my head, here’s a short list:

  1. Grandparents
  2. Classmate
  3. Family Friend
  4. Tutor/Neighbor
  5. Family Friend Relative

I mention this because the reasons for these deaths widely varied. Some of these people were very old. One had a long term fatal illness. One was a suicide. Another was in great shape, went for a run, and was killed by a heart attack.

My point would be this: regardless of the death, or the expectation and preparedness for it, funerals are incredibly emotional. A Mortician’s Tale never captured any of that emotion for me. Regardless of who has died, it’s hard to not end up overwhelmed at least a bit, whether it be from loss, or from empathy for those who have lost of a loved one.

This brings us to the last part of the game, reading emails. I would say that this is one of the strongest parts of the game in terms of writing, but again, it doesn’t actually allow any interaction or choices. It’s more like a neat sort of creative writing.

There’s a bunch of interesting stuff here regarding the death business, the up-sell of funeral packages, and the whole concept of as death as an industry. But none of it is actual gameplay.

I already gave my verdict on it up above, but while I wouldn’t recommend the game to people who are solely looking for a game, it’s still interesting as an experience. Also, I’m pretty sure it took me longer to write this article than it did for me to beat the game. So, yknow. Not sure what that means.

Until next time.

A Short Hike

Be a bird, climb a mountain, fly around and stuff.

A short hike is a fun, simple collect-a-thon in which you try to climb to the top of a mountain. It has a very Animal Crossing aesthetic, and the actual gameplay often reminds me of Breath of the Wild. It takes maybe 3-5 hours tops to “Finish” the game, and it probably has some repeatability, but more for exploring the island, and less for mechanical challenges.

Also, I almost didn’t play it, even after downloading it, because I’m an inverse elitist, and kinda assumed it was a Firewatch-esque game novel.

Whoops.

A Short Hike is well named. You’re quickly introduced to the main character, her aunt who she’s staying with on a small island with a mountain in the middle, and okay, now you’re playing the game. There is a given reason for having to climb the mountain, but it’s not really that important in any way.

The game is played from a top down isometric perspective, like Animal Crossing, and a decent amount of time spent trying to get to the top of the mountain is going to to be spent looking for various items, golden feathers, and other interesting things. The general structure of gameplay is, “Follow a trail, hit a roadblock, find a way around the roadblock, or start exploring,” or at least I think that’s what the structure is supposed to be. My gameplay structure was more, “Follow the trail, find something interesting, get distracted by it, search around, find some treasure, chat with some folks, and then remember that technically, I’m supposed to be climbing a mountain.”

I have one big gripe with the game, and it’s that the flight controls are a bit cumbersome. Looking at the game afterward, I suspect it’s because the game might be intended to be played with a controller, instead of mouse and keyboard, but it can make some of the bits near the end a little tricky.

Lemme explain what I specifically mean. A Short Hike has a locked camera, and said camera seems to shift when you enter certain spaces/move through a given zone. This isn’t a problem while walking, but when you’re flying/jumping, if you pass through one of those barriers, the game has a habit of re-orienting your bird, and all of sudden, your inputs make the character fly in a different direction then intended. This can also be tricky if you’re trying to land on top of things far below you. It’s my only real issue with the game, and I suspect it might just go away if you use a controller.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with A Short Hike. It’s a few hours long, and it’s $8, which seems about fair to me. You can buy it on Itch.io and on Steam, and it was part of the Racial Justice Mega Bundle on itch, so if you bought that bundle a bit back, you already own it! And you should play it!

With 2020 continuing to be the winner of year it is, it was nice to just fly around a chill island and have a good time. Take care of yourself, and stay safe.

Itch.io Racial Justice Bundle – Didn’t Make the Cut #1

All the games I played, but didn’t grab me enough to get their own full article.

A massive amount of the stuff I’ve been playing has been from the itch.io racial justice bundle, and there’s a lot of stuff that for whatever reason, either never grabbed me, or I didn’t feel like writing a full article about. So here are three of the things that were just sorta “Meh” to me, but might be your cup of tea. Or not. Maybe they’re just kinda lousy.

Gladiabots

You have a team of robots. Control them with a robust visual programming languages. Solve challenges with them. I did the tutorial, got through a few levels, and just sorta dropped it. Nothing about it really grabbed me, or made me super interested. I found myself just spamming the same sets of AI over and over, and then tweaking them if they lost, then just spamming them again. For games like this, I feel like the moment that really sells the game is where you try to get some sort of tricky or clever plan to work, and you pull it off. I never had one of these with Gladiabots.

0n0w

For some reason, when I downloaded it, this game was like four gigs. I’m torn between calling it Instagram Filter Simulator and Acid Trip Simulator, but since I’ve never actually done acid, I’m just gonna call it Instagram Filter Simulator.

I do not know why you would play this. It’s trippy without purpose or rules, and by the end felt like I was having a headache. If you have to run a Call of Cthulhu game, and have no idea how to describe things that are unseeable, this might be a decent placeholder. Otherwise, I’d say skip it.

Bestiary

Bestiary is far more “experimental writing prompt” than game. Look at semi-randomly generated pictures of monsters. Write something down. Rinse, repeat. That’s it. It’s amusing for like 5 minutes, but after that, feels pointless.

Sky Rogue

Blast through the air in a minimalistic flight game/dog fight game.

I like to beat games before I write about them. I have not beaten Sky Rogue, but I’m gonna write about it anyway. This is because I don’t think I’m going to beat it anytime soon.

Sky Rogue is a minimalist flight sim and dog fighter, where you select from a set of colorful planes, load them out with enough weaponry to wipe out a small country, and then proceed to blow up repeatedly when you fail to accurately estimate the distance between you and the ground. Or you and the hanger you’re trying to bomb. Or you and the two enemy drones with chainguns. Or a surface to air missile turret.

Your experience may vary.

What I’ve learned primarily from Sky Rogue is that I am very bad at flight sims, even those of the most simplified kind, and even if I can usually finish a run of a roguelike, Sky Rogue demands a level of execution that I currently don’t have. If I beat it at some point in the next week, I’ll update this article.

So, what’s the loop then? As the name would suggest, Sky Rogue is a roguelike. The roguelike element is primarily present in the set of unlockable planes and weapons. While unlocking equipment is permanent between runs, the upgrades you purchase with cash for your planes and gear are not. There are two main resources:

  • Tech, which persists between runs and functions as a sort of exp for unlocking more equipment/planes.
  • Cash, which is lost and death and is used to upgrade gear during a run.

As far as roguelike elements go, it’s pretty minimal. Missions and environments are randomly generated, and upgrades are lost on death, but you don’t really have to scavenge for parts or weapons. Destroying enemy structures and planes during a mission grants cash, which can be spent on upgrading the planes or equipment of your choice. Most of the upgrades I’ve seen so far have been primarily numerical, i.e., extra capacity, damage, or targeting range. This meant I usually just upgraded whatever gear I was using, instead of being forced to adapt my run based on pickups.

In addition, you can fully heal and re-arm at any point during a level by returning to base (as long as you haven’t completed the mission), so there’s not as much resource conservation as there might be in something like Dead Cells or Slay the Spire.

So we have a roguelike with permanent unlocks and weapon configuration, free health refills, and a wide selection of gear. In theory this would be easy, which brings us to actual gameplay: flying your plane around, and in my case, into things.

One of the things I was hoping to find in the itch.io racial justice bundle was exposure to a bunch of games and mechanics that I wouldn’t otherwise engage with. I’ll be honest, I mostly expected to find narrative games, dating sims, that sorta stuff. Instead, I’ve gotten my ass repeatedly handed to me on each of my runs of Sky Rogue. I’ve gotten about half way through what I think consists of a full run, and I’ve gotten to the first big “Boss” once. It wrecked me.

If I had to give any advice to anyone else tempted to play the game as the result of this review, it would be the following:

  1. Turn off arcade mode. While it might feel better at first, it ultimately prevents you from flipping yourself over, and doing other tricky flight things.
  2. This game is probably better with a flight stick. I wouldn’t know. I don’t own one.
  3. Spam the flares.

Sky Rogue is $20 on itch.io, and Steam. The team does have a little blurb noting that if you buy it on itch.io, they get more of the money, and you can still get a Steam key if you buy it there.

As 2020 continues to be some sort of Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt anthology of garbage, stay safe, wear a mask, and take care of each other. I’ll update this article if I ever beat Sky Rogue.

Night In The Woods

Brutal, honest, true and rending.

Per Gametrodon editorial policy of not burying the lede, I think Night In The Woods is really good, and that you should play it. It’s closer to, say, a point and click adventure game than anything else. While the game might describe itself as a platformer with a few puzzle elements, I suspect these mechanics won’t really challenge anyone. Actually reading the dialog in game was more challenging, not because it’s bad, but because it was so real and accurate that I wanted to close the game and do something else. That might just be a me problem though.

The character interactions and character writing is hands down the strongest part of Night In The Woods. While I don’t want to go too far into the plot, the player primarily controls Mae Borowski, a college student who returns home after dropping out. Her hometown of Possum Springs felt to me like a sort of old town that’s falling apart. A majority of the game is spent traveling around and interacting with her old friends, citizens of the town, and her family.

I think that Night In The Woods is the best written game I’ve ever played. I think it’s better written then Gone Home, and far more human, despite the fact that the characters are all semi-anthropomorphic animals. While I wouldn’t say it achieves the same mesh of narrative and gameplay that defines Celeste, or maybe even Undertale at points, I think the characters, interactions, and world utterly nails the feeling of being there.

It’s hard to discuss Night In The Woods without spoilers, so I think I’ll save that discussion for a second article that I’ll talk about below. I find the game is strongest when it’s handling interactions and friendships, and while the meta-narrative story of the town that sits over it feels weaker, I wouldn’t say it ruins the game. The end also starts to drag a little bit, but I have to wonder if that was a deliberate choice.

If you enjoy games with a highly narrative edge, you should play Night In The Woods. If you want to see what the best writing in gaming looks like, you should play Night In The Woods. That’s not to say it’s a game for everyone. If you play games purely to experience new gameplay mechanics, or to relax, then it may not be for you.

Night In The Woods is $20 on Steam, $20 on itch.io, and it looks like every other console as well. But like, if you want to buy it on Switch or something you’ll have to go find it digitally in the store yourself anyway, so I don’t see any reason to bother linking to those places.

Take care of yourself during this very strange time.

Ed. Notes:

I had an extended bit about not burying the lede, only to realize that by writing that intro itself I was burying the lede, and as such, defeating the point of talking about how we don’t bury the lede. It was about pirates and it was great.