Justice Playthrough #85: SOULS & STRIPES

A bit too difficult for my liking, but very deeply heartfelt. This is a work that needs to be treated with respect.

Page 19, Game 22: SOULS & STRIPES by feralphoenix

The way I’m approaching the entries in the bundle likely did this particular comic a disservice. I’ve been largely hitting these blind, diving straight in based only on the short description and image used in the bundle entry. Unless I’m baffled by something and struggling to figure out how to proceed, I haven’t been visiting the entry’s main page until I’m wrapping the write-up and need something to link to.

This usually turns out fine; I feel like a given work ought to stand on its own two feet, and I want to let it impress me (or not) on its own terms. However, coming in through the main page would represent a more typical user experience. In this case, it would have informed me that I was about to read a piece of fanfic spanning two video games, only one of which I was familiar with.

I eventually figured out that I was reading Undertale fanfic, but since I haven’t played Deltarune, I didn’t know that was also a key ingredient until just now. (Hell, I hadn’t even heard of Deltarune. But given that it’s by the same dev as Undertale and given that Undertale is awesome, it clearly needs to be on my radar.) Because I didn’t have that knowledge, it took me a hot minute to get on this book’s wavelength.

So, this is a Fanfic comic centered around Undertale and Deltarune, translated into English from Japanese. (Luckily, I figured out I needed to read from right to left pretty quickly.) A quick Googling suggests that all the characters are canonical and not author inserts. It’s seventeen stories, most of them focused on themes of identity and acceptance.

I kept swinging wildly between being deeply confused and deeply moved. The confusing bits come from the assumption that the reader already knows good and goddamn well they’re reading fanfic based on a pair of video games. I sometimes struggled to tell the characters apart, and felt blindsided by weirdness like digressions on being controlled by The Player. I cannot imagine the book’s intended audience having either problem.

There’s also the issue that these stories are just a compilation of work done by the author, and weren’t necessarily intended to be part of a larger whole. Little surprise that it comes off a bit disjointed, with big reveals being dropped and never mentioned again.

Where the book truly sings is when it explores its characters’ gender identities. I have no idea if these stories of pain and rejection represent logical extrapolations of the characters’ canonical backgrounds or if they represent the author using these characters to process their own experiences, but either way, they pack a fucking wallop. The Chara and Frisk of these stories went through terrible pain figuring out who they are, and still carry that pain with them.

The artwork is excellent, clear and evocative. I also understand it’s presented real-time chronologically, meaning you can see the author’s skill increasing as the comics move forward.

This is not for everybody, and even knowing that it’s fanfic, there are still some parts that I find impenetrable because I’m only familiar with 50% of the source material. (What’s it mean when Chara is see-thru?) Nevertheless, if you approach this comic on its own terms and accept it for what it is, there’s some tremendously moving storytelling here. This is not something I would have downloaded had the RNG not demanded it, but I’m glad that I read it. If you’re curious at all, I can definitely recommend it.

That was intense. What’s next?

Page 7, Game 29: The Away Team by Underflow Studios

“In this interactive sci-fi adventure novel, you are the AI pilot of Earth’s last interstellar ship.”

I’ve found interactive fiction to be pretty hit or miss … but then again, isn’t everything? Let’s see what this one has to offer.

Justice Playthrough #84: Winterlore I

I’m not sure I completely GET this one. But I’m digging it.

Page 19, Game 15: Winterlore I by Moroi Springs

Your beloved grandmother has just died.

Let’s set some tone

You’re heading home after visiting her grave, when you have a … visitor. Who may or may not actually be there. But either way, she has a chest, and some shit she’d like you to tend to.

Don’t ask me, game; kinda want your input here

From there, you return home and … play the game, basically.

This is where the story kinda sorta lost me, but the gameplay kept me rolling. The actual game is an olde-timey point-n-click adventure puzzle solver, where you’re hunting pixels and determining which objects to rub against other objects. Not the most compelling playing experience, certainly, but the classics are classic for a reason; I did indeed get invested in searching through this woman’s home, looking for the clicks that would cause the story to fall out. (“Okay, I just sawed her broom in half! … why did I just do that?”)

The visual and aural presentation both evoke a strong sense of mood, of creepiness that never quite spills into horror. The house feels icy and alone. Would the game have let me freeze to death if I didn’t figure out how to get the oven fired-up? No idea. But I felt viscerally more at ease when I did it.

How am I cold just looking at this?

The big hole in the game is … WHY am I rubbing things against other things? What’s going on here? Sometimes, clicks will reveal little snippets of what life was like with grandma, enough to deepen the sense of loss but not enough for me to piece together a story.

As you proceed and hit milestones, the environment changes around you. It feels like you’re moving through a life. Grandma’s? Your own? Are you … dead?

I made it all the way to the end, and I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps Part II will tell me.

So the gameplay is nothing special, I still don’t understand the story, and yet somehow the overall mood is compelling enough that I’m glad to have played through it. It really does feel like a piece of folklore from a culture I don’t fully understand. This is a really cool little game, and I do hope I find Part II in here somewhere.

Perhaps it will be this game:

Page 19, Game 22: SOULS & STRIPES by feralphoenix

“UT/DTR comic anthology”

Ah, so back to comics. Warning you now, comic, I’m kinda not in a place where I’m down for either jingoism or religious propaganda, and that title makes me think either might be on the table. But let’s have a look at what it really is before going any further down that rabbit hole.

Justice Playthrough #83: No cortarás a tu hermana con el filo de esta espada

Not every game needs me in its audience.

Page 44, Game 24: No cortarás a tu hermana con el filo de esta espada by TwineDoctors

The biggest hurdle is, of course that the game is in Spanish. (The title translates to “You will not cut your sister with the edge of this sword”.) My thirty-year-old high school Spanish and the smattering of obscenities I picked up watching Narcos were not up to the task. But, this is a bit of browser-based interactive fiction. So if I run it through Google Translate, I can at least get a look, right?

That didn’t help as much as you’d think.

You’re living in … Japan? And there’s an invasion of some sort coming. And you’re traveling around to unite people against the invasion, I think?

I was never sure what I was doing, or why. I’m pretty sure I lost really, really hard though.

There’s a level of disconnect here that Google Translate was utterly unable to bridge. I have no idea if that’s a defect in the game, or a simple cultural gap. For all I know, this is like a standard trope in Central American literature. “Oh, a gather-the-gangs-against-the-invasion story? But set in Japan, and interactive? That sounds fuckin’ dope, hermano!”

So … hey. If you speak fluent Spanish and would like some interactive fiction, check it out. This might be your jam.

Will I be able to read this one, though:

Page 19, Game 15: Winterlore I by Moroi Springs

“a folkloric mystery adventure”

I believe I will.

Justice Playthrough #82: Destined

Oddly, no mention of “destiny.” But I’m more of a “free will” fanboy myself, so I’m fine with that.

Page 33, Game 14: Destined by Sandy Pug Games

Destined is for veteran role-players looking for something a tad more epic than goblin-punching but less epic than unleashing a horde of dragons upon the world. You’ll be playing heroes within a specific community, with mandatory time jumps (two of ’em) to better explore you your heroic shenanigans have affected that community. It’s rules-lite but definitely not rules-free; the most detailed section is the one detailing how the characters and their home are influenced between sessions.

The game recommends playing three sessions — and after the third, determine which player has fallen and become The Antagonist should you choose to pick the game back up again and start the cycle anew.

This one is damned interesting, operating at a scope that I’ve never done much with as a player. It definitely has a Beowolf feel to me, like you’re setting out to create a story that could legit have come down from Ye Olden Times in a way that no 10-by-10 stone corridor could capture. It’s super light on rules, particularly during character creation, and relies very heavily on players successfully getting into the headspace it’s shooting for. Power-gaming this one is missing the point entirely.

In fact, come to think of it, I think that’s what’s missing from this: the very simple rules state that either you succeed at a task and get a Rise at game’s end, or fail and get a Fall. What if this followed the Apocalypse World model, but reversed the final slots? Bad roll means you get a Fall, good one means you get a Rise, and a great one means you get both? Let the seeds of your own demise be tied to the moments of your mightiest victories. Let pride cometh before the fall.

Gyah. I’m here to review it, not design it. Anyway. Interesting game, well-conceived. I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more meat on these particular bones, but with the right players, this looks like it could be the core of a memorable gaming experience. If it sounds interesting, give it a look.

(Oh, and: I tend not to mention the stand-alone price for these games, because I don’t want to keep that shit up to date. But as of this writing, the list price for Destiny is $50 … but the author will provide a 98% off coupon if you provide evidence of a recent purchase of a small indie TRPG. I kinda love that.)

Okay, RNG. We staying in the physical tabletop realm?

Page 44, Game 24: No cortarás a tu hermana con el filo de esta espada by TwineDoctors

“Viaja por la ciudad reclutando bandas para vencer a la invasión.”

I … have absolutely no idea. It has something to do with my sister. And an invasion? Let’s see if my three years of high school Spanish let me play this one at all.

Justice Playthrough #81: It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – Take This

What if Legend of Zelda, but while waiting for the food to arrive?

Page 38, Game 21: It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – Take This by Margaret Catter

This is a one-page RPG that would probably work really well as a long-form improv show. “All right, Jasmine here is about to go on an epic quest! Show me something you brought with you that you’re gonna give her to help her out! Pepper spay, thank you!” “Uh oh, looks like Jasmine’s been stopped by a deadly trap! What item do you have on you that’ll help her get past it? Some Kleenex! She’ll need to be creative….”

Anyway. This isn’t so much a “game” as it is a set of guidelines for crafting an adventure based around whatever shit you happen to have on you. There’s not much to it beyond the cute idea … but what the hell, it is a cute idea.

What dangers will I be able to conquer with:

Page 33, Game 14: Destined by Sandy Pug Games

“A 5 page luxury TTRPG experience”

Five pages of luxury, eh? Do go on.

Justice Playthrough #80: A Touch of Glamour

Ah, another Powered By The Apocalypse entry. The second one I’ve encountered in this trawl, if I’m recalling correctly — or second-and-a-half, depending on how you count Delve. This looks like a very promising early draft. I’d be curious to see where it–

Wait, this is the finished product?

Oh.

Page 39, Game 30: A Touch of Glamour by Maharhar

You’re fairies! You and your fellow players are creatures of legend and magic, making your way through a hostile world. Sometimes it’s the subtle hostility of simply not belonging, other times you’re being actively hunted, because fairy magic. Good luck out there.

This is a Powered By The Apocalypse game, which means it’s based on the rules for Apocalypse World. When the game is working well, AW rules allow for an intriguing mix of structure and creative storytelling. Anytime you want to do something, you roll 2d6 and add a number. Low roll means you failed, middling roll means you kinda sorta pulled it off or that you did the thing but there was a complication, high roll means you nailed it. The details of what happens next are very much up to you and the game master. When a game goes well, you still feel like you accomplished something (or were bested by a deadly foe) while still allowing for a hell of a lot more variety than “I stand there and whack it with a sword.”

Where A Touch of Glamour feels like it totally nails the AW feel is in all the options it lays out for the players. Looking over how the mechanics work, yeah, you can totally do some fairy shit with this game. Do stuff! Create stuff! Wreck stuff! Mess with mortals! Be magical! The game has excellent guidelines for all of it that give you options without bogging down in the rules. That’s a great start.

Unfortunately, it’s what the game DOESN’T do that’s causing me to give it a bit of game-reviewer side-eye.

  • How do Masques work? What are they? Is it like a physical masque the fairies can put on, or does their entire physical appearance change? How many masques do fairies get? I imply from the character sheet that the answer is “Two to start with,” but why is that implied and not simply stated? How big a deal is it for me to don or remove a masque? Am I expected to just be wearing one the entire game, or do I take them on and off as my fey whims dictate? This is just a straight-up hole in the rules that I have to think would have been patched in response to some blind playtesting.
  • Where are the character archetypes? I’m far from the most hard-core player of indie RPGs out there, but my exposures to Apocalypse World-based games make me feel like clearly defined pre-built character options are a big part of the appeal. You choose an archetype, and then your character sheet lays down your options for turning that archetype into a character uniquely your own, as well as giving all the mechanical information you need to actually play that character. It’s a great way to streamline both the character creation process and actual gameplay, and really lets you dive into the action. Why does character creation in this game force everybody to look at the same book and go hunting for the information they need?
  • Where are the GM moves? This is one of Apocalypse World’s starkest departures from traditional RPGs; the GM and players are literally not using the same rules. An AW GM is a diceless GM; the GM moves define how and when to fuck with your players, and what degree of fuckery is appropriate. A Touch of Glamour’s GM section has tips that are well-suited for general purpose game running, but completely omits that bits you need to be a GM within this ruleset. Tellingly, the only examples of characters being harmed come as consequences of botching their own moves. In a world where the PCs are explicitly being hunted and harvested, I’d think some guidelines on just what can hurt them and how badly aren’t just appropriate, they’re mandatory.
  • What’s the world like? The author explicitly does not want to go into too much detail setting up the world, on the grounds that it feels presumptuous — that they’re imposing their sense of reality on someone else. They have some guidelines for helping players and the GM define the world together, but even then, they leave out the bits that have been explicitly stated elsewhere in the rules. There are mortals who hunt fey; I’d expect the guidelines to at least remind the players they need to define who those people are, how common they are, how much power they successfully derive from harvesting fey for magic. Are they a secret society, or are they openly using stolen magic? The decision to only give the loosest guidance conceivable in defining the world honestly feels like a cop-out. The author very clearly has a vision for how fairies work within that implied world; defining some key elements of that world isn’t an imposition, it’s a welcome piece of structure.

Looking at these comments, it’s clear to me that the biggest hole in the A Touch of Glamour ruleset is not how it helps lay out the players’ experience, but the GM’s. Yes, there’s some sloppiness in the rules and it fobs-off more character creation work onto the players than I’m used to seeing in an Apocalypse World game, but those can be overcome. It’s the GM who has by far the largest gaps they need to fill. There’s a very real timidity here, a sense that any but the broadest advice on how to run the game would represent an unwelcome intrusion upon whoever is running it.

As a result, I can really only recommend this game if you have a confident, experienced Apocalypse World vet to run the thing. But what the heck, if you want to put together an AW-based game of fairy shenanigans, there are worse starting points you could look to; there is some good stuff here.

Let’s see what the playful sprite known as “My Perl script” has in store for me next:

Page 38, Game 21: It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – Take This by Margaret Catter

“A spur of the moment RP game where you play an adventure using only the content of the GM’s bag.”

Interesting. Tell me more.

Justice Playthrough #79: Choice Chamber

Well, that’s an interesting trend to chase.

Page 19, Game 16: Choice Chamber by onemrbean

Choice Chamber is a side-scrolling adventure game. Arm up, dive into the dungeon, murder as much stuff as possible before your inevitable and grisly demise. The twist: important game decisions will be made by the people watching on your Twitch channel.

Here’s the starting room, where you can kill some time and fuck around with a ball

Yup, the game is meant to integrate with Twitch. The game will pose questions, and turn votes on the answers into your in-game reality. (The offline mode simulates this by choosing shit at random.) When all the votes are in, the next room will be a treasure chamber bestowing the blessings of your viewership upon you.

The RNG would like me to fight beefibois. Also, I am currently locked in pogo-mode, which means I’m always jumping UNLESS I press the “Jump” button. You’re a dick, RNG.

The obvious questions become: is this game enough fun that I would WANT to kill time playing it on Twitch? And if I’m one of those rare Twitchsters with people actually watching, is it gonna be fun for them to screw with me?

I’m … honestly not sure.

This game is just okay. My initial impression is that it’s honestly too easy. I was expecting that if I touched the foes in the game, they’d murk me, but no; they only take a chunk off my life-o-meter if they touch me AND have the “I bite you!” animation rolling. That saps a lot of the tension out of the game, and seems pretty basic to be basing a Twitch stream on. I don’t really watch Twitch, but why would I want to watch somebody play unless they’re being challenged? I dunno, maybe if they’re really interesting in general and the game is really just something for them to be doing while they chat, but in that case, the game wouldn’t much matter, would it.

What’s more, the foes are pretty easily manipulated. If I were playing this for an audience, I think I’d have to lay down a personal code of conduct saying shit like “I shall not sit atop this platform and stab the big monster do death while it squirms helplessly” in order to keep it from getting even MORE piss-easy.

Can’t touch me! Can’t touch me! Can’t touch me!

Still, the game DID eventually wear me down, and I suppose that you don’t want it to be TOO lethal to give the audience a chance to see their mean-spirited votes play out. (I mean, the vote that set it so that I only DON’T jump when I hold down the “Jump” button? That was objectively the correct choice. It’s just so annoying.)

Just to make sure I had a look at this game in its natural habitat, I popped over to Twitch.com, and hey! There were two games of it going on a random Sunday evening! I clicked on the one with the most viewers (RedheadORama) and settled in.

First impression was that the difficulty ramps up suitably fast, so that’s one concern laid to rest. The lady playing it was having to leap around and dodge and do other cool gamer things, and wasn’t just waltzing through. Suppose it helps when you know where the warp zones are so you can skip past the boring shit. (Though apparently, that’s a mixed blessing; warping forward keeps a lot of bullshit from showing up, but also cheats you out of a bunch of potential upgrades, too.)

The couple playing with it seemed to be having fun with it, for certain values of “fun.” They kept dialing down the graphics settings to keep the game from pausing randomly; I guess all the Fun Stuff that had been inflicted upon them was overwhelming their machine. The overall tone of the interaction with the fans was “Help me out, guys,” and people were generally happy to help out optimize settings to defeat the boss monsters.

I still voted for pogo jump, though.

I do not anticipate that I’m going to explore this game much more on my own. But what the hell, if you’re a Twitch streamer looking for something new and unique, this one might be worth a try.

But will it be as camera-ready as:

Page 39, Game 30: A Touch of Glamour by Maharhar

“Where the fey are at the center to Create and Destroy.”

Creating OR destroying, I would expect the fey to look damned good doing it. Let’s see what’s going on.

Justice Playthrough #78: Jumpin’ Jupiter : Prelude

Okay, that was cute. Also, I learned a thing!

Page 23, Game 18: Jumpin’ Jupiter : Prelude by Quantum Sheep

Jumpin’ Jupiter is a game for the ZX Spectrum, which leads to the question “WTF is a ZX Spectrum?” A quick Googling informs me that it’s basically British for “Commodore 64.” Apparently, it’s one of the best-selling AND cheapest home computers of all time! Until about an hour ago, it didn’t even exist in my world. Cool.

Anyway, I downloaded an emulator, and discovered that the people who made it wanted me to pay for it. So then I went and found a more different emulator, stumbled around the pull-down menus, and I was off!

Tea time, motherfuckers

In Jumpin’ Jupiter, you jump around and collect tea. When you have all the tea, the door will open and you may move on to the next level.

So, first: is this the first British game to make “collect tea” the game’s objective? It can’t be, right? That’s just so overwhelmingly British it must be an entire subgenre. Google?

Wow. “Video games about tea” doesn’t turn up shit. What the hell, capitalism? How can this market possibly be untapped?

Anyway. This plays about like you’d expect a platformer to play on forty-year-old technology. It’s cute, it’s engaging. Bounce around, avoid stuff that will kill you, grab the tea. There’s also a mechanism where some levels also require you to grab a key to bring down a wall surrounding the exit door, which I kinda don’t understand the point of. I already have to grab ALL the tea before I’ll be allowed to leave; would making it just another cup of tea really matter that much to gameplay? I guess a touch of variety is nice.

Despite being for a platform older than my wife, there’s a very modern sensibility to how the game was built. Unlike most games of the era — hell, unlike a lot of the games I’ve played on this trawl — it does a really lovely job of teaching you its mechanics as you go. Here’s what you can do, here’s how this stuff works, here’s some stuff that would like to kill you. I appreciate that, a lot. If anything, it might slow-roll a little too slowly; I was several levels deep before I felt challenged at all.

Now we’re talking

That … might actually be more of a problem than I’m giving it credit for. Games of the era were meant to get the shit played out of them; they had to get to the fun part quickly. I’m not sure a game that forces you to go through its extended tutorial each time you play it really would have worked.

Whatever. It is what it is; a cute little retro platformer that’s honestly pretty well done. Can’t say I expect I’ll come back to it much, but I’m glad I played it.

I have no idea what the “Prelude” part of the game’s name means. Perhaps there’s an entire old-school tea saga waiting for me out there.

Will the next game be intended for modern computers?

Page 19, Game 16: Choice Chamber by onemrbean

“A real-time, crowdsourced, procedurally generated game where your fate is in everyone else’s hands”

That’s gonna be an emphatic “yes.”

Crowdsourcing requires, you know, a crowd. That’s not exactly a gimme for most of these little indie guys. Let’s see how it works.

Justice Playthrough #77: The Red Door

Well, that was annoying.

Page 42, Game 14: The Red Door by yunglads25

You wake up in a spooky room. You have been kidnapped by a serial killer who likes toying with his prey. Solve the puzzles and escape via the titular Red Door!

Eh, Ive woken up shittier places

This is a first-person horror survival game where you must go on a scavenger hunt to find whatever it is you need to move along to the next stage. There are also puzzles you must solve. And by “puzzles” I mean the ubiquitous placeholder puzzle game developers use until they can come up with something better: slideyboy build-the-picture puzzles.

The unflavored oatmeal of adventure gaming

Of course, you need to watch out for that pesky killer! And by “watch out for” I mean “hurry the fuck up.” I don’t know what triggers his appearance, but I think there’s a silently ticking clock that summons him. (Maybe.) The game gives hints that you can hide from the killer by scrambling under the bed, but as far as I can tell, once the dude shows up, that’s that.

Oh, this fucker again

Also, sometimes your flashlight shits the bed. I don’t know why, and I don’t know why I’m able to then turn it back on a little while later. All I know is, stumbling around a pitch black environment does not make for compelling gameplay.

There’s not a lot of game here in general, actually. A handful of jump scares, but for the most part, death seems weirdly arbitrary. I didn’t get invested, because I didn’t feel like I had enough control over my situation to bother. The game will fuck with me when the appointed Moment of Fuckening arrives, and that’s that.

And slideyboy puzzles? Come on.

I will give the game credit for laying down a perfectly cromulent horror atmosphere.

So, the dark room is where the party’s at? Dope.

But the details responsible for turning that atmosphere into an actual game just feel half-baked and underdeveloped. I just can’t recommend it.

Perhaps I’ll feel better about recommending this guy:

Page 23, Game 18: Jumpin’ Jupiter : Prelude by Quantum Sheep

“A prelude – shorter/easier than the main ZX Spectrum platformer :)”

Ah, a demo. Cool. Sell me on your game.

Justice Playthrough #76: Swung

The pieces are all there. It just didn’t work for me.

Page 35, Game 24: Swung by Extra Nice

The princess has been kidnapped — funny how often that happens. The prince has been dispatched to save her!

Pure hero

Problem: the prince is a useless imbecile.

Solution: the wizard has created a magic sword — namely, you — to “aid” him. Which means you’ll do all the work. Slay whatever needs slaying, drag him along whenever he needs dragging. Which is damn near always.

This is basically a kooky twist on platforming, one that weaponizes your mouse pointer. It’s of the “precision platformer” variety, a game where you’re perpetually one wrong move away from the level ending with the prince’s messy death.

And that’s where I think it goes wrong for me: for a “precision” game, it feels sloppy as hell.

Dragging the prince around feels weirdly clumsy. Eventually, I stopped trying to snake my way past the fireballs and instadeath spikes and just tried to do it QUICKLY, so that if I fucked it up I could redo it immediately.

There are monsters and such to stab … sort of. You can only stab things if you hold down the left mouse button; otherwise, you exert no physical presence. That’s weird to me. If I’m a sword, stabbing shit really ought to be one of my core competencies. And even when I do have Stabbination Mode activated, I found the collision detection to be much iffier than I preferred, particularly near the bottom of the screen.

There’s also just a lot of conceptual sloppiness. Check this out:

Ignore the cowering idiot. See that light green platform he’s standing on? Compare it to those slightly darker green platforms to the right.

Those platforms are BACKGROUND IMAGES. YOU MAY NOT LAND YOUR BOY ON THEM. Try that and you’ll plummet, possibly onto spikes.

The game has four chapters. I made it through one (capped by a boss fight that I found more annoying than exciting) and most of the way through two before I finally just got too frustrated with it to bother.

I really, really want to like this game. It’s clever and inventive. But it just wasn’t fun for me.

If you’re into platformers and want an interesting twist on the genre, maybe you’ll dig it.

Maybe I’ll dig this next one:

Page 42, Game 14: The Red Door by yunglads25

“Escape a serial killers home before you become his next victim”

So, basically Animal Crossing?