Why write a post about just one game when I can write a post about three? I’ve managed to polish off a few indie games in the last couple of weeks, all of which have either been short or rather light on actual game mechanics, making it almost impossible to write a 1500+ word post about each one. So much like I’ve done before I thought I’d give them all their own little spotlight in a single post. Enjoy.
Always Sometimes Monsters
Always Sometimes Monsters is a game about fate, choice and consequence wrapped in an RPG Maker powered game. You begin your journey by choosing your character from a pool of house party guests of various, before taking your new character out onto the balcony and choosing your partner in a similar fashion. ASM gives you complete freedom in your choices here. Gay, straight, male, female, black, white, Asian…whatever takes your fancy. You then speak with Larry, who offers you a money spinning deal to write a novel for him. And then once you’ve made your decisions and introductions the game immediately takes everything away from you.
After the party the game picks up a year later. Your book deal has collapsed thanks to a chronic case of procrastination, you’re getting evicted from your apartment until you can make rent…and your ex has just sent you a save the date for his/her wedding at the end of the month. With a newfound sense of purpose and the help of some friends you set off on your goal to scrape together enough cash and favours to make it to the wedding, taking place on the other side of the country, by any means necessary. The bulk of ASM has you doing whatever it takes to get the cash together to reach your end goal, and you can pretty much take it as far as you like. At one point the game offered me the opportunity to empty the bank account of my nice, elderly neighbour who trusted me with her bank card to get her groceries. In Always Sometimes Monsters you can stoop as low as you can stomach to get the cash that you need.
You’ll spend your time in the game travelling from city hub to city hub on your quest, meeting new people and forming connections. Each hub has its own self contained story, which you can play through between taking on odd jobs for cash. I’m not going to lie, I did some fairly heinous things to make cash. I rigged an election, blackmailed a medical professional, and more (I didn’t rob the old woman though). People died. I started out trying to do the right thing, but quickly abandoned that concept when faced with a world that decided to kick me around. Playing as Susan (a white lesbian) I was called a deadbeat, a failure, a bitch, a faggot, a dyke and much worse. Eventually I got tired of it and started to justify worse and worse behaviour in the name of making it to San Verdano. After all, what difference did rigging the election actually make when both candidates were on the payroll of the same big corporation?
And that’s the crux of Always Sometimes Monsters. I could talk about how tedious the odd jobs are, and they are tedious, but they’re not really important. They’re a means to an end. Make tofu burgers, move boxes into trucks, rig an election, do whatever it takes to get one step closer to the wedding, one step closer to the happy ending you know you deserve. The journey of Always Sometimes Monsters is one well worth taking. It’s about morality, empathy, choice, fate and consequences. It asks you far you are willing to go to get what you deserve out of life. There are few games out there that tell such a personal story, and fewer that tell one as well as this game does.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Octodad is hands down the funniest game of the year. Yep, even in a year that spawned a fantastic South Park game. It’s a game where you play as an octopus who is living in secret among Humans, going so far as to marry a beautiful woman and father two children. Where slapping a suit on and not knocking things over is enough of a disguise to fool (almost) everyone into thinking you’re not an octopus. It also has the catchiest theme tune of a game for a long while. Unfortunately these two things are pretty much the only things Octodad has going for it.
Well, sort of. Octodad starts off brilliantly, on the protagonists wedding day. You must guide Octodad through the chapel and to the end of the aisle, retrieving your suit and bow tie along the way. All without raising anyone’s suspicions that you are indeed an octopus disguised as a Human. And probably destroying almost everything in your path. Movement in this game is incredibly difficult, you see. As an octopus you don’t really have two arms and two legs, more just four tentacles, and you must maneuver them accordingly to attempt to mimic Human walking by using the two shoulder triggers to move each “leg” independently. This turns the everyday chores that you are faced with in the games first half a hilarious crucible of destruction. Even such a thing as attempting to retrieve some milk to give Octodad’s young daughter a top up, which resulted in my destroying the kitchen table, spilling milk everywhere and almost KO’ing Octodad’s wife with said milk bottle. Had Dadliest Catch been an entire game of attempting the mundane with as little collateral damage as possible it would have been a wonderfully funny game.
Unfortunately it doesn’t. A trip to the Aquarium brings with it all manner of problems as the game attempts to do things that it’s control system isn’t designed to handle. As you waddle your way through precision platforming sections, mini games, on-rails shark escape and pure stealth sections Dadliest Catch quickly goes from a fun, quirky game to a frustrating chore. As in the aforementioned milk retrieval scenario, failure was fun. In the games second half failure just means having to restart and try again. Octodad’s greatest strength is the randomness and gut-busting humour of the havoc you create trying to grill a hamburger, and in the games second half that’s taken away from you as you must dodge sharks, a French chef and dreaded marine biologists. Hopefully we can get another game in the Octodad series that focuses purely on the title characters attempts to blend in and do normal Human things, because those moments were fantastic. But in the games short running time those moments are fleeting, and overshadowed by the constant irritation of more traditional gameplay mechanics that just don’t fit.
If you happen to know me personally, then you’ll probably have heard me talk about Cloudbuilt enthusiastically before now. I discovered it in the strange indie game tunnel at Eurogamer last year and got a chance to play it and chat with one of its developers. As soon as I saw it come out on Steam I knew I had to own it. Cloudbuilt is a fast-paced, puzzle platformer which relies on rocket powered parkour. All of its levels are surreal, floating challenges that must be navigated with precision, timing and speed. As you can see from the screenshot above the games art style is great, Cloudbuilt is one of the more impressively beautiful looking games released so far in 2014. Don’t let the beauty fool you though, because this game wants to destroy you.
In Cloubuilt you play as the subconscious of a woman named Demi, who is lying in a coma in a hospital suffering from war wounds (and, if the narration is anything to go by, extreme PTSD). Each of the levels in Cloudbuilt are her unconscious mind attempting to make sense of the things that happened to her, albeit in an abstract way. The levels themselves range from mildly challenging to brutally difficult, as you must traverse them with only your jetpack and pistol, dodging turret blasts, running along or up walls and basically avoiding falling into the abyss below. The controls in Cloudbuilt are crucially airtight, so any death that you suffer is always a result of a mistake, which is both excellent and infuriating in a game such as this. Progress in Cloudbuilt is centered around courage. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but hear me out. The best way through each of the levels in the game is to build up some momentum and go for it, having the courage to not slow down and trust your reflexes.
If your reflexes are anything like mine, you will die a lot in Cloudbuilt. The game features a checkpoint system that means that death doesn’t necessarily mean sending you right back to the beginning, but that does bring me to the one and only problem I have with the game. Every level sees you start with a set number of lives, if you run out of lives then you have to restart the level you’re on. The problem here is that if you get particularly stuck at a certain part of a level then you’re probably heading back to the very beginning, especially as the levels become more challenging later on, which ends up slowing you down and becoming cautious, which is also likely to get you killed and sent back to the beginning of the level. This is mitigated somewhat by allowing you to place one checkpoint of your own that also tops up your number of lives. How big a problem this is will probably depend on how bad you are at this type of game, and even then it’s not a dealbreaker (take it from someone who sucks at Cloudbuilt). It’s a great game with an interesting story to it. Cloudbuilt slots neatly into that style of game that can be punishingly difficult yet impossible to stop playing, and a whole lot fun to boot.