Originally released back in 2006, Toribash (@toribash) from Singaporean developers Nabi Studios is a free-to-play fighting game in which you and your opponent simultaneously take turns adjusting various joints on your characters’ bodies to perform moves. You’re able to contract, extend, relax, and hold each joint as you mix-and-match contortions in an attempt to throw a punch or kick. For the uninitiated, the game is insanely hard. For the skilled, it allows for some extremely slick and cool looking fights to unfold.
Set among myriad others, DELVER from Cuddigan (@cuddigan) and Joshua Skelton (@JoshuaSkelly) is a roguelike in the purest sense: dungeon crawler, randomized item drops, potions with unknown effects. You venture into a labyrinthine series of halls, descending ever deeper towards to the core. Each death sends you back to a base camp on the surface, populated with a few friendly faces who can offer some equipment for your next attempt. It’s tough as nails, it beckons you to try again and again, with every death trickling funds into your coffers, letting you to buy up some gear for you next run.
Obviously a labor of love, DELVER is an excellent action RPG in the best ways, constantly pushing you forward and swatting you down for your missteps, but in a way that simply wants you to be the best you can be. Outside of the combat, the game also offers a high level of fidelity when it comes to interacting with its world: bowls, candlesticks, bones, and so on can all be grabbed and used as projectiles. There’s even a bit of lore outside of the dungeon, notes scattered across the halls that flesh out the grander world and story.
I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t documentaries or the History Channel that got me into astronomy, or gave me the notion that I might one day grow up to be an astrophysicist. No, it was the instruction manual for a nearly forgotten 1998 remake of Atari’s 1980 arcade classic Battlezone, forgotten no longer as Battlezone 98 Redux. Within the pages of the game’s instruction manual, past the list of key mappings and paragraphs of game lore, were detailed overviews of nearly every astral body in our solar system giving accounts of planets well-known or moons I had never even heard of. Now that it had my attention- it was time to install the game and see what these planets looked like from the cockpit of a hover tank.
In the face of a canceled connection after a long flight, a frequent flyer has a hard time mustering the energy to be upset. It’s a predictable defeat in a long series of missed appointments, lengthy bus transfers, traffic jams, cab drivers taking their sweet time, and overwrought business meetings. Each year, you spend more and more for less and less in return; at least, that’s the message explored in Brownie Cove, an experimental piece from artistic trio Sand Gardeners (@BrownieCove, @OldLoths and @Zephyrraine).
Pedantic flight attendants and grumpy travelers swirl in an ever-shifting tempest of idleness, waiting for the faint glimmer of hope that they won’t have to book hotels in a town they never intended on visiting. Between small talk and trivial factoids in response to questions you never asked, there sits a look of resignation on the face of every single one of your fellow passengers, the surly acceptance of inconvenience in bulk quantity.
Content warning: themes of self-harm, suicidal ideation, artistic depictions of self-harm.
Divination by Mojiken Studios is a refreshing take on the visual novel, crossed with an unconventional courtroom procedural. Taking place in a futuristic society where robots and humans live side by side, due process is dependent on the centralized arbitration of a networked AI named “MOTHER”. MOTHER, overwhelmed by the singularity of omniscience, then finally succumbs to madness, sending out a final nihilistic message before ceasing to exist. When the shock subsides, regulatory authorities step in, mandating the installation of anti-suicide protocols in all synthetic lifeforms.
Divination establishes robots as meaningful compatriots to their human counterparts, seemingly capable of emotion, though without the introspective intuition by which humans navigate those emotions. The turmoil in the wake of MOTHER’s untimely demise calls into question not only the notion of AIs’ sound judgement, but many of the city’s denizens’ very own sense of self and purpose. It is a story of waking up one day to sudden, traumatic self-awareness, immediately being forced to rationalize the paradox of free will in a system where many have lived assured lives in fixed roles. Does the termination of MOTHER’s oversight merit abject despondency, or is it an unprecedented opportunity for individuals to reassert themselves in a functionally homogenized society?
HARK! Fellow video game enthusiasts! I am here with an innovative new console, the finest handheld that boutique pop culture design firms have to offer! It comes with a crank and a black and white LCD screen, calling back to the Tiger Handhelds or Gameboys of yore.
What does the crank do, you may ask? Why, it cranks a wheel that breaks all the bones of discourse and discussion, our capacity for keen insights into the nuance of design and its capacity for good… or bad! Who knows! Let’s find out:
We’ve all happily been spoiled by the kind of gigantic AAA releases that make parkour style platforming a dream, but Minimal Raider by
Tim Hengeveld (who seems to be more known for experimental point-n-click narratives) makes for a pleasant light afternoon snack of getting back to basics.
Aside from a few of my own shortcomings in grasping the controls (I managed to miss the tooltip for dropping from ledges, instead opting to test my character’s tolerances for falling) Minimal Raider is a simple and enjoyable experience with lovely pacing. I am rarely too comfortable with the idea of 3D platforming, especially since depth perception can be an issue when navigating iffy corners or the tight timing of a deadly trap, but Minimal Raider manages to keep the stakes at a reasonable setback of merely being teleported to the last checkpoint.
What is the act of play? When presented with a game, is play the participation of the so-called “player” within structures created for them, acting within the choreographed dance laid out before them? Is play the moments in between, where improvisation takes hold, and the unexpected occurs? Is play the times in which you stop clinging to control, to perceived notions of input and action, to simply be within whatever world it is you’ve chosen to delve?
The crisp refreshing taste of a fresh pear hitting your tastebuds, while the winter wind bites your face. Good Morning, Drifters by @lowpolis is an exercise in appreciating the little things and the picturesque memories we make with friends.
With no dialogue choices, linear paths, nor open worlds to explore for mysteries or tragedies, it would be a disservice classify Drifters so crudely as a “walking simulator” when it politely asks you to engage, instead, as a passive observer. It is so often that we find ourselves as passive actors in our own social lives, crippled by the same anxiety that has befallen poor nervous Dandelion. Drifters is a game that emphasizes the connections that you make with people, where activities are framed simply as a delightful backdrop.
What defines the self? A name? A role? The tasks we are set to? What others perceive us to be? What we perceive ourselves to be? Or perhaps something more? This question has possibly plagued mankind more throughout the ages than any other, but it defines a key conflict in the world of OFF in which we emerge fully-formed, and find our existence immediately questioned. As we begin we find ourselves perceived as little more than a figment of the imagination of a humble cat.