The Game Pile is where I review video games. Starting sometime in January 2013, the Game Pile games are games I own.
I don’t use any numeric score system for games, because I firmly believe they are (in brief) really stupid. These reviews have swears in them, and I doubt you have a problem with that. My aim with reviews is to to try and convey some of the emotional experience of playing the games, and to express ideas the games bring to my mind.
Sometimes a game will merit further discussion, with spoilers, and those are ‘Deeper in the Pile’ posts.
Sproggiwood is a turn based roguelike* explorer game, where you play characters from a tiny little forest civilisation of adorable Clogheads, delving into little demense of Finnish mythical creatures. You follow on the behest of – well, at first it’s a condescending sheep, but the story unfolds a little weirdly from there. Really, a little weird is a good little thematic mantra to use for the endlessly smiling, effortlessly charming Sproggiwood.
Now I should feel bad that I don’t really know any of these myths, despite having Finnish relatives, but I’m not fooling anyone if I tell you that my Finnish culture is much more about the baked things that you can stick in your mouth when smeared with butter. Continue reading →
Over time I’ve come to wonder what the purpose of the Game Pile even is. I know that it’s slowly morphed from being a sort of diary listing of the videogames I’ve played in my digital collections, then straight-up reviews to slowly morphing to where it is now where I try to use each game as a launching point to talk about something interesting a game does while still giving useful information about whether or not people might want to play it. A sort of consumer advocacy coupled with artistic analysis, which really is what most reviews are but on a much tighter time scale.
Some games don’t really merit a lot of deep talk though? Some games are just unremarkably good or acceptable or decent?
And speaking of Unremarkably Good: Snakebird!
Snakebird is a puzzle game with a slightly hard to describe mechanism: The player controls one (or more) of the game’s titular snake birds. They are birds, because they can somewhat maintain themselves in the air. They are snakes, because they move in the four orthogonal directions in a videogame space, as real snakes do. Snakebirds can push other snakebirds, they eat fruit – as all good and noble videogame animals do – and … that’s it. The whole game is built around this simple puzzle set and… yeah, yeah that’s it. Is that two hundred words?
There’s nothing much to say about Snakebird because Snakebird is just really good and above my skill grade. For all I know around puzzle thirty, Snakebird is just fireworks and boobs, but I have no idea, because it’s really hard!
I’m not good at puzzle games.
Nonetheless, Snakebird does have one particular thing about it I’d like to point out: The game has an adorable interface quirk. In Snakebird, the birds have faces, faces that react to how you’re doing. You can turn and shift your snakebird and when it gets near fruit, it gets excited. Repeat too many actions? The snakebird gets kinda bored.
There’s so little to say about this game, just because it’s really good? And that’s … really all there is to it? It’s got good cloud saves on Steam? Which is… nice?
We’re going to do something a little special here, this time. I try to keep my writings on games honest, and also useful. For most of you, the useful information is does this game do anything really offensive and is this game an interesting or fun experience to play? With that in mind I’m going to provide that information all in one tight little block – and then, after a fold, I’ll go onto the unfortunate category of a complex but extremely negative and unpleasant issue.
It’s not negative or unpleasant in the ‘beware’ way! This is – it’s – it’s disagreement with a message or a value. It’s not the kind of thing I normally do, because it’s as much a study of a character as much as anything else.
The Game, As Purely As Possible
Night in the Woods is an active-movement platform adventure which is built around exploratory setpieces. Set in a slowly dying mountain mining town, full of people who grew up there and don’t know how to do anything else, it’s wrought about with rural town menace as writ by the people who live there, not by the people who think anything outside of the New York Suburbs is a grim forest filled with the Wildlings.
What you get when you play it is this wonderfully sad place, the sort of bubbling form of human civilisation you get in the spaces that an older, crueler but also more wealthy world carved out of the wilderness, as it slowly bleeds to death over the course of days. There are murals to history, symbols and monuments to the town’s own specific culture that live in cupboards where nobody needs them, because nobody cares. It is a grim and sad place full of people defiantly struggling onwards because there is nothing else to do, nowhere else to be, and a person’s way of life is not a thing that changes easily.
It is a place full of people who did not have choices.
Populating this town is a cast of young people living in systems created by other people and doing the best they can care to do. There are your friends, the ever-loving Gregg, his boyfriend Angus, there’s Bea, there’s… other characters… as well… with names… like Mom! And Dad! And yeah anyway.
You play Mae, who has returned home from college at a point that is noteworthy and people remark upon it, and the structure of the game is somewhat akin to a point-and-click adventure game. Rather than carrying around an inventory of things to locations to see what reacts differently, you’re just dragging around Mae and looking at what she reacts to differently, where she guides you onwards next. This is all through a beautifully realised, pretty little town of dilapidated yesterdays.
The game does do sideways things – little mini-games where you play bass guitar or try to find someone missing or shoot crossbow bolts or fight with knives. This breaks things up, which is an interesting need in a game that, for lack of any better term, is mostly about frittering away time doing not much special.
As a pure game, it’s a bit like a really low-budget version of a Naughty Dog Uncharted game. You mostly get to control a character moving around a space with responsive controls trying to work out if any bits of your environment are things you can stand on, will react if you check them out. There are setpieces, sudden shifts where the game says okay, now pay attention to doing things this way, with slightly awkward controls that you quietly hope won’t be used as central to other scenes.
There really isn’t that much like this game out there. It’s an adventure game where your challenges are frittering away an afternoon with a friend, a dating sim but the dates are with friends, and a horror story where you never see the monster. It is an excellent indie game made by people who, by all accounts are Not Awful.
You can get Night in the Woods on Steam, GOG, and Humble. It’s a cheap game and you can probably finish it in an afternoon.
Get it if:
You like adventure games but don’t like feeling like you’re waiting for characters
You like exploring very normal, very mundane spaces
I wanted to write about this game three weeks ago – but I felt I had to get perspective. I felt I had to really get into the roots of what I actually thought, what I actually felt about this game and why I wasn’t liking it. I wanted to resist the knee-jerk response of but it’s new, it’s not as good. I wanted, I really wanted, this small form delivery of adventure game content to be a good idea, and I wanted to hold it up, I hope, to people who might want to consume more of it, who might have been shy, as if The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us hadn’t already seized most critical attention and pulled eyes onto this form.
Still, I am a Sam & Max fan; I do love this franchise, such as it is. Or do I just love one particular game and a cartoon? Oh, these are the tangled spaces we find ourselves in as we indulge in fandom.
With Sam and Max Hit The Road tucked away, I have to take a quick detour to describe a very different game, a game that is, nonetheless, very important to talking about the point-and-click adventure game, and more importantly, which provides useful context for its sequel episodes. But don’t worry, because the game we’re talking about here is Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne, which is super great and I love it to bits because it’s super great, so this won’t take long.
Okay, so straight up, Sam and Max Hit The Road is one of my favourite games. It’s a point-and-click adventure game with some frustratingly obtuse puzzles. I don’t know if I can even recommend it as a game per se because the times I struggled with the solutions to its ridiculously obtuse view of the world are all so far in the past that I can’t imagine how anyone would solve them. Some of the puzzle solutions are positively arcane.
When you boil down a lot of point-and-click adventure games, they have one problem: Use key on door. In fact, sometimes games that tried to do something different (like Future War and Full Throttle) were criticised for the involvement of those other elements. In Sam and Max Hit The Road, there’s a handful of, y’know, bits and stuff designed to introduce other puzzles and problems, but none of the game is too hard once you grasp the thread of the game’s weird poke-it-and-see methodology.
So, right, as a game: It’s good, but it’s of its time. The GOG release brings automatic saves and windowed play and those are nice modern conveniences. Okay? Play it with a walkthrough nearby but don’t follow the walkthrough directly. Just use it when you’ve poked everything to laugh at the responses you find, but not to remain stranded in a narrative point for a while. I like it, I think it’s good, it’s cheap and it’s really funny.
Let’s do the heck out of talking about Sam and Max Hit The Road.
I’ve commented on Dishonored, both entries of its DLC, and its Sequel in the past. It’s a franchise I’m comfortable calling one of my favourites. Now, here we are, at the final entry for this place, a final journey to the Kaldwin Era of Dunwall, and it is with joy and sadness, I return once more, to get to the root cause of all this chaos anew…
Prey is an immersive sim game, an Arkane game of that mould that echoes System Shock and Dishonored. They’re first-person not-shooters, games that we’ve had a hard time giving a genre name to in these past few whens. Back when they were new they were another type of RPG, in the vein of Ultima Underworld, but as engines improved and the games moved with them, they’ve existed in the shadowy space alongside your more combat-oriented first-person shooters. This legacy, which Campster has covered over on his channel, has its latest incarnation here in Prey. Continue reading →
I have had Diablo III for some years now – years! – and literally never played it after the initial release. A friend bought it for me, a beloved friend, a dear friend, and it was a birthday gift, a special edition with fancy extra bits and all sorts of wonderful, wonderful intentions behind it, and I just didn’t play it. I didn’t play it because it didn’t feel like Diablo 2 to me, it didn’t have my Druid, it didn’t work. Also there’s few things as irritating as playing alongside people who Care A Great Deal about doing things in a particular way that you don’t really mind or care about.
Well, this week – well, not this week, a few weeks ago because I write in advance but the magic of scheduling – I randomly got a hair to try it out. I don’t honestly know why – perhaps someone mentiond it to me or I overheard something about the necromancer class or whatever. Whatever. I went down to the devil’s larder and I busted out some magnificently stinky Blizzard cheese.
Now this wasn’t something I expected; a really good limited-interface horror game.
Stories Untold is a game that positions itself as firmly being about the 1980s, but about the technology of that era. It also relies on a creeping, uncomfortable sense of horror, a sense of unease that builds. You have to know that it’s going some place bad, but the knowing ahead of time doesn’t alleviate the tension, and the game does its best to put you under pressure by tugging your focus in multiple directions.
That said, this is a horror game, and it does deal with interface problems, feelings of isolation, confusion and memory checking across difficult, uncomfortable designs. I cannot remember anything I’d call a jump scare, but the game is definitely creepy, and there’s a point where lightning flashes and startles you.
If you want to experience the game in as pure a state as possible, and simply know whether or not I think it’s good or recommend it, then this is where you want to check out. The game is available at Humble, Good Old Games, and Steam, it is very good, and it is cheap enough that if you give it a shot and don’t like it, you’re not losing much.