Justice Playthrough #75: Super Slime Arena

It is indeed Smash Bros Brawl, but with little blobby guys! Also, with really stripped-down gameplay. And forced multi-player.

Pretty sure this one isn’t for me.

Page 8, Game 4: Super Slime Arena by JellyTeam

I’m not loving games where the developer punts on the AI, decreeing that it’s multiplayer only. Even if you wanna say that the best version of your game is multiplayer, AI still gives players a chance to try it out without needing to force their friends into playing it with them, and a way to acquaint themselves with the basics before giving more experienced friends a chance to whup their asses.

If this one enticed me, I’d at least try it with my wife. But the game failed to convince me that I need to rope her into this.

I got the barest taste of the game by setting up one player on my controller and the other on my keyboard, and flipping back and forth between them. What I saw didn’t do much to convince me I want to see more. Gameplay is super stripped; you can move, you can jump, you can launch your attack. Different characters have different characteristics, as you’d expect, but everybody has those same basics in some form or another.

What’s more, in the one arena I played around in, some characters can’t jump high enough to get to the platforms above the ground, at least not with the basic jump. They either have to do a double-jump (if available), or do some sort of combo move with their attack. That feels like it could be really frustrating.

This looks cute and all, but it’s just so basic. Given that mandatory multiplayers kinda don’t want me as a player in the first place, I think I’ll just move along.

Up next:

Page 35, Game 24: Swung by Extra Nice

“Be the SWORD!”

Fuck yeah. Think I’mma go be a SWORD!

Justice Playthrough #74: PIXEL SPACESHIPS (Shoot’em Ups) – HD

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Page 40, Game 6: PIXEL SPACESHIPS (Shoot’em Ups) – HD by MedimonGames

This is not a game. This is a collection of assets for a game. Specifically, this is a bunch of old-school pixel spaceships you can use for a shoot-em-up game that you are building.

Pew!

I was looking forward to making little pixelated spaceships shoot at things. If that’s what I really want, I’ll need to write my own game. For none is here.

I have been Galaga-blocked.

Still. If you have need of some little pixel spaceships for a project of your own, here ya go. Have at ’em.

Well, that was a bummer. Is this next one a game?

Page 8, Game 4: Super Slime Arena by JellyTeam

“Slimy 16-bit style, party-fighting game using any controller in 2-50+ multiplayer matches!”

So, Smash Bros Brawl, but with slime?

Let’s splatter something!

Justice Playthrough #73: The Dark by Eric Koziol

So, is this game clever or just lazy?

Page 37, Game 7: The Dark by Eric Koziol by Eric Koziol

Spoiler: it’s both!

In The Dark by Eric Koziol (look, man, there’s obviously a perfectly good “Author” field that you filled out; if you can’t be arsed to take your name out of the title, neither can I), you are a dungeon exterminator, looking to purge a local dungeon of its pests. Fairly standard stuff. But oh, noes! You have been stricken blind! And numb, I think! And stripped of your sense of smell!

Whatever. You’re going to have to defeat this dungeon entirely by sound cues. Good luck with that.

The adventure begins!

Controls are straightforward. Up arrow moves you one space forward, left and right pivot. If you cannot move forward, you will here a thudding sound indicating you just found the wall with your face.

If you hear a squelching sound, that is a monster violating your tender, tender flesh! Press A to wildly flail about with a weapon of some sort until you hear a death scream.

A pitched battle to the death

If you heard yourself getting injured, press H to pound some healing herbs. If you actually have any to munch on, you’ll hear a munching sound.

Too many wounds, and you shall hear the dark angel Wilhelm screaming of your death

Explore the dungeon, find the Big Evil. Defeat the Big Evil and you win!

I like and admire the way this is a full-fledged video game that is accessible to the vision-impaired. I appreciate the cheek behind going full “Fuck you” to any and all visual cues as part of the game. But the execution is much too basic for this oddball game to truly soar.

For instance, how do you represent health strictly through sound cues? Just sitting here all critic-like at my desk, I can think of a few ways. Perhaps a sound effect of your breathing getting more labored. Perhaps when you move, you could be stumbling a bit, or making little pain noises.

The Dark by Eric Koziol does none of this; if you have too many wounds, you die. Guess you’d best keep track out of how many hits you think you’ve taken.

How do you represent improved gear when you find it in the dungeon? Maybe improved armor could add some clanky noises when you move. Maybe a better weapon could make your attack noises sound swooshier. The Dark by Eric Koziol, again, does none of that; when you find something, you’ll get a sound effect hinting at what it was. Does it help you? Does it harm you? Pretty much impossible to say.

Phat lewt! Fuck yeah!

Are there subtle noises indicating there are monsters present? Or, possibly, even sneaking up on you? (I THINK there are at least a few wandering monsters; it feels like the most probable explanation for a few of my more random-seeming deaths.) Nope. There isn’t even a nasty monster GROWL to indicate it’s time to fight for your life; just the wet meat slapping noise of your ass getting kicked.

An audio-only dungeon crawler is an interesting concept. Unfortunately, The Dark by Erick Koziol represents an incredibly rudimentary execution of that concept, and that’s a shame. There’s clearly room for something special here.

Still, though I DID have fun playing the game, and I DID have fun beating it. I had to bust out some graph paper and find the walls one face-plant at a time, but I did it. I may not have known what the stuff I was picking up was or why I might want it, but I knew where to find it.

And I did indeed beat the game. Which did not produce any cool victory noises, just some “You won!” text. Which honestly feels like punking out a bit.

This is very clearly not the best possible version of this game. I had some fun with it anyway. Maybe you will, too.

But will it be as much fun as:

Page 40, Game 6: PIXEL SPACESHIPS (Shoot’em Ups) – HD by MedimonGames

“Go to the stars with your retro pixel spaceships!”

Everything about this sounds awesome and I’m going to play it immediately.

Justice Playthrough #72: Sagebrush

Creepy and atmospheric, Sagebrush falls heartbreakingly short of “Excellent” and instead hits “Really damn good game that you should probably play anyway.”

Page 3, Game 15: Sagebrush by Redact Games

You’ve come to explore the Black Sage ranch, a compound where a cult committed mass suicide 25 years ago.

Oddly, the property has remained on the market ever since.

Go have a look around.

Sagebrush is one of the rare video games where “Cultist” is not synonymous with “Disposable Mook.” In most games, cultists are what pop out when the game would like you to fight through some bad guys who have dark magic at their disposal and who you don’t have to feel bad about killing. They’re trying to burn your face off with magic, and they’re all in the service of some dark foul goddemon anyway; send ’em to Hell! They have it coming!

Not here.

The cult in this game is, like many real-world cults, a perversion of Christianity. The people who were once members of this cult were, like all real-world cults, just … people. People who got pulled into something terrible and made some bad choices, but just people all the same.

As you explore the compound, you’ll learn about them.

FFS LEONARD WE AREN’T MADE OF THIN MINTS

There was, to be certain, terrible evil here. Of the all too human variety.

There were no dark gods at work here, no enraged supernatural spirits reveling in the cruelty of possessing corporeal flesh, no Lovecraftian entities from beyond the void driving mortals mad with their horrible truths. Just people.

That makes it so much worse.

WELP

The game is creepy and atmospheric. The light slowly fails as the sun sets, driving a subtle but palpable sense of dread.

Who were these people? What happened to them? Learning that is the heart of the game.

The game gives the illusion of having a lot to explore, but in truth, it lays its story out in a pretty linear fashion. When you find a thing, it will open-up a new place for you to explore. Explore it, and you’ll find one or two new things opening up new places to explore.

There are puzzles, of a sort, but ones that are fully appropriate for a game this thoroughly grounded. It’s too dark to comfortably see in the community center, so you’ll need to turn on the generator. For that, you’re gonna need a key. Where is it? Try opening that large, prominent box where one might logically store a key.

Most of the game rewards engagement, asking WHY certain things are the way they are. I wanted to know why I was here; in due time, I learned.

But there are issues. Why do the doors constantly shut themselves behind me? Because fuck you, they wanna stay CLOSED because that’s the kind of doors they are. Be grateful they let you in at all. I definitely wasted a bit of brainpower trying to figure that one out. (And also got one hell of a jump scare when a large door closed before I’d actually gone into the room behind it, pushing me out of its way.)

Interacting with objects is sometimes much too fiddly; too many of them have too narrow a “hot zone” where the game will let you pick up or read them. This can make simply reading a note surprisingly difficult, and lends itself to an unfortunate distrust. Can I genuinely not interact with that object, or did I just not locate the precise spot I need to be pointed at?

Walking is kinda slow. Sometimes, this is fits the atmosphere, but if you get tired of it, just hold down the “run” button. This is not the sort of game that will make you face-plant as punishment for running through unfamiliar ground in the dark.

The biggest immersion-breaker was the voice acting, which ranges from “Passable” to “NOPE.” When the credits rolled, I noted half the cast had the same last name as the guy who created the game; this was not a surprise.

These problems are real, and keep the game from being as great as it should have been. However, they don’t wreck the experience, at all.

This is gaming as an interactive storytelling medium, done very very well. If some well-grounded creepy Horror Lite sounds like a way you’d enjoy spending an hour or two, I can definitely recommend it.

Will the next game be similarly unsettling?

Page 37, Game 7: The Dark by Eric Koziol by Eric Koziol

“What you can’t see will hurt you.”

Calling that a big ol’ YUP.

Justice Playthrough #71: Purple Noise Echo

This is not a good game … yet. It might become one of the best games I’ve yet discovered in this trawl.

It’s all up to the dev.

Page 14, Game 18: Purple Noise Echo by ukioq

You are a silicon entity of some sort, trapped … somewhere. Something is in contact with you, and it advises you to get the hell out of there, before you get killed or run out of energy. This seems like a splendid plan, so off you go.

A strange land, made of hexagons

As you explore, you’ll stumble across various upgrade modules, which allow you to manipulate your environment or turn worker-things you encounter into friends. If that sounds like a euphemism for “enslave,” trust your gut on that one.

You belong to me now.

Of course, they’re not the only things you’ll encounter. There are also other things moving around down here. Whatever the hell they are, they have beef with you. Run.

why u mad bro?

I am not a video game developer; I am strictly on the consumer end of that capitalistic power dynamic. My notion of what video game development looks like is fundamentally ignorant, informed only by my experience developing other (radically different) types of software and dribs and drabs I’ve picked up from people actually in the industry.

My mental notion of what an “unfinished” game is like matches my experience with Youmu Is A Zombie!, a game I encountered earlier in the trawl as part of a bundle-within-the-bundle. The game looks raw as hell, but the mechanisms defining the actual gameplay are very well thought-out. In this case, “further development” presumably means polishing up the graphics and the subtleties of the player experience in general.

Purple Noise Echo flips that dynamic on its head entirely. This game LOOKS gorgeous. The game warns you that it’s basically still in an alpha state, a claim that had me all “No fucking WAY, this is way too polished for an alpha!” Then the actual game starts, and it turns out the eerie ambient soundscape is just as perfect as the visuals, and my incredulity only deepened.

“This fucker HAS to be close to finished!” I thought.

But then I started playing it.

I do not think it is actually all that close to being finished.

This is a puzzle-solving game that does a poor job of teaching you what puzzles you have to solve and what tools you have at your disposal for solving them. It tells you to be mindful of the energy your expend, but waits another level before you’re actually expending any energy, a “mercy” that undercuts its own lesson. There are actually TWO resources you’re managing, but I only ever seemed to be expending the one, which was confusing.

The worst part came when I solved a puzzle that unlocked a door … and I have no idea how or why I was able to solve it. I had to get up to a place too high for me to reach — okay, that I understood. But my little enslaved buddy COULD get up there … and I have no idea how. I THINK it was because I installed a “Scout” module on him? I don’t know; I have no idea what that “Scout” module was doing. Regardless, I TRIED getting him up there a few times, and nothing worked, until suddenly it did. Why? Did me hanging out in a specific space somehow make that one accessible? How did I do that? Why was I able to do that?

For a puzzle-solving game to be fun, the player has to understand their options. They have to know — or at least suspect — that they need to accomplish X. They need to know that they are unable to do that, because Y. But if the environment happened to be in state Z, that should make it feasible. Okay, how to make this happen….

Figuring out how to accomplish X should make you feel like a genius. Succeeding through flailing sabotages this feeling; you don’t feel clever, you feel like you got lucky. And you secretly worry that the game is going to think you know stuff you actually don’t, and is thus going to toss shit at you that is just going to leave you baffled.

Purple Noise Echo clearly wants you to figure stuff out through trial and error, but this iteration of the game takes it too far. I don’t know what my options are, I don’t know why things do or do not work when I try them. For a game in a genre that’s all about the rush of realizing you’ve figured something out, that’s lethal.

But the thing is, all of these problems are solvable. Right now, the game just does a really sloppy job of teaching players how to play it. That can be done. Not easily, perhaps, but it can be done; I’ve seen plenty of games do it.

Right now, I have no reason to think that Purple Noise Echo is actually going to someday solve this problem, beyond the blind hope that a game that LOOKS this wonderful must surely actually BE this wonderful when it’s finally complete. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But I definitely intend to check back in on it every now and then just to see how it’s doing.

This is not a game I can recommend just yet, but it’s simply oozing with potential. I wish it well, and sincerely hope that I eventually get to play the best version of it.

So where does this next guy fall on the development cycle?

Page 3, Game 15: Sagebrush by Redact Games

“Explore a cult compound in this narrative adventure game.”

Cult compound? Hey, those are always chill, relaxing spaces! Let’s see what nifty literature awaits me.

Justice Playthrough #70: a new life.

I’m not crying. You’re crying. Shut up.

Page 5, Game 20: a new life. by Angela He

It is indeed a visual novel. It’s a love story between two women who meet in college, told through lovely watercolors and a gentle, perfect soundtrack.

It is restrained, and absolutely beautiful. It pulls you into the relationship between these two people quickly, without fucking around and wasting your time.

It is also surprisingly, pointedly topical.

I don’t want to say too much about it, other than to recommend it, strongly. This is a deeply moving experience.

Oh, you know how I sometimes grumble in these interactive fiction plays that your choices feel inconsequential? That is very seriously not a problem here.

Take care of each other. It’s dangerous out there.

All right, once I’m done hugging the hell out of my own wife, what game is going to be waiting for me?

Page 14, Game 18: Purple Noise Echo by ukioq

“An ambient tactical game in which you play a silicon entity in a dark and abstract universe made of hexagonal tiles.”

Oh, random number generator. You have such a good sense for when to bust out a change of pace.

Justice Playthrough #69: Dirty Aces

Aw yeah, the sex number playthrough gives me DIRTY Aces. Is it a DIRTY game?

… eh, not really. But that’s hardly the game’s fault, is it.

Page 41, Game 22: Dirty Aces by Ben “Bee” Scerri, Red World Press

Dirty Aces is a tabletop RPG meant to simulate a neo-western style setting. Something like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, or Firefly, or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, or The Expanse, or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

I get the impression the author is a bit of a Dark Tower fan.

The connection to a specific setting is honestly pretty loose; most of the game is devoted to the rules for using two decks of cards for both character creation and conflict resolution. Those mechanics are … interesting. I’m not sold on them. But I could see them working.

Character creation involves using cards to define four main attributes, each one of which has a corresponding suit — mental strength (hearts), mental agility (diamonds), physical strength (clubs), and physical agility (spades). Oddly, the character creation rules as defined mean that there can be no more than four players aside from the GM — and the game recommends having EXACTLY four players.

You’ll use cards to represent your strength in those areas. However, your character concept is unusually fluid for a TRPG, because you can take the cards you used to define your character and use them as part of the game’s bridge-based conflict resolution. What’s more, the character creation rules specify that your starting card in each will be somewhere between a jack and an ace, so even the attribute where you’re “weakest” is honestly, according to the game’s mechanics, still pretty strong.

So once you make use of your character’s tremendous strength, your character will stop being tremendously strong, because whatever card replaces that attribute is unlikely to be as good as the one you spent.

There are also some FATE-style attributes you can create and access during the game. These, at least, are actually very stable.

Conflict resolution is handled by bridge, where the GM sets the trump suit based on the general parameters of the situation. All players get five cards, in addition to the big cards helping making up their character sheets. If the GM takes three tricks, they win; the players need to take X tricks, where X is determined by the difficulty of the task at hand.

The game encourages you to describe each trick as part of the ongoing conflict, with the strength of the card representing what you’re doing. This feels weirdly prescriptive to me; in D&D, for instance, I’ll describe what I’m doing first, THEN roll the dice to see how it goes. Here, I’m being asked to tailor what I’m doing to match the game mechanics.

What’s more, the game encourages the GM to make bad stuff happen to the players when they go off the trump suit, even if they take the trick.

The difficulty for an average task is 6. That means the players must collectively take six tricks between them to succeed on something AVERAGE. That seems really slow. I’d rather just throw a die, be done with it, and let the story move along, you know?

As always, I’m not playing the game, so this is hardly a fair review. Maybe it works, very well. I’m a bit skeptical. But I could be wrong.

Do I want to play this game? Not really, to be honest. But if a friend were pumped, I’d gladly give it a try.

Much like I’m about to try:

Page 5, Game 20: a new life. by Angela He

“When your loved one hurts you, what do you do? A classic love story about letting go.”

Another visual novel? I’m thinking visual novel. They really haven’t impressed me yet, but fiction is hard, folks. If that’s what I’m in for, I’ll gladly give it a try.

Justice Playthrough #68: Guppy

Wait, WTF?!

Page 11, Game 11: Guppy by Christiaan Moleman

“Okay, let’s see what this game is all about … looks like I’m the titular guppy, and I’m supposed to go find some food. Dope. I can relate to these goals.

“All right, low-fi watercolor look to the graphics. I’m feeling it. Very chill, very zen. Nice mellow background music, too. Good unified look and feel to the game; feels simple, but not cheap or haphazard. I guess the arrow keys move me around … oh, neat! Left arrow moves my fish-tail one one way, right arrow moves it the other. Just tap ’em to get my fishy butt moving. I don’t think I’ve seen this movement mechanism before. Definitely feels fishlike. I’m digging it.”

Hello, fish friends! Have you seen any food?

“All right, time to find some food. What does ‘food’ look like? Is it those bubble things? They seem to disappear when I swim over them, but otherwise the game doesn’t react. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of fish-hunger-ometer here. Wait, is that a bug? Let me wiggle over there … yup! The game just gave me a point! I’m here to munch bugs!

“Oh, hey there’s a larger fish!”

The end has come for thee, little one

“Should I be wor– FUCK ME DID THAT THING JUST EAT ME?!”

So. Guppy is a zen, meditative little game about wiggling like a fish, eating yummy bugs, and FLEEING IN FUCKING TERROR FROM THE GRIM FUCKING SPECTER OF DEATH. The visual and aural tone of the game made me think that getting tagged by DeathFish would be some sort of minor setback, or slap on the wrist. Instead, NOPE. Ya DEAD, son. Meditate on THAT shit.

DeathFish does not appear until you eat your first bug. Perhaps he is their avenger. Live by the food chain die by the food chain, biyatch.

There are lily pads that make you appear shadowed, but they offer no respite. You can attempt to distract your pursuer by leading it into the school of goldfish hanging out down here with you, but it does not want them; it is here for you. It is your personal tormentor. Only you can sate its hunger.

I have no idea whether to characterize this game as a bizarre tonal misfire, or a work of subversive genius. It is definitely unique. I can confidently say I have never played a game like this before.

What the hell, recommended. If only so you too can experience the sensation of getting shivved by Bob Ross.

Alright, next game is the sex number. Don’t be a kids’ game don’t be a kids’ game don’t be a kids’ game….

Page 41, Game 22: Dirty Aces by Ben “Bee” Scerri, Red World Press

“Win or Lose Together. Touchstones: Firefly, The Dark Tower.”

Whew.

Justice Playthrough #67: Dungeons of Loot

NOPE.

Page 30, Game 13: Dungeons of Loot by Luke Parker

In the game’s defense, the page does indicate that it’s in an “alpha” state, so my expectations shouldn’t be that high.

I don’t know if I can get my expectations this low, though. This is pre-alpha.

For a game named “Dungeons of Loot,” it’s damned short on loot.

Know what in that picture is loot? NOTHING. Those things that could plausibly be gold coins on the floor? As far as I can tell, they do nothing. Neither do the plant-looking things.

The dungeons DOES seem to be changing state as you wander through it, but I had no idea what it meant or whether it was responding to my actions or was just on a timer.

Speaking of timers, you’ll eventually be informed that you are now too sad to pick up any more loot and the dungeon is now collapsing more quickly. Which raises two lines of questioning:

THE DUNGEON IS COLLAPSING?! How can I tell? How is this impacting me? Has it been collapsing all this time and I’m just too bloody thick to have noticed? Is this a timed thing, or do I have some ability to influence it? Am I supposed to get back to the starting point for safety, or seek shelter deeper in?!

Also, WHAT LOOT?!

In one play, I DID find a room that had treasure chests in it. They all had pages from a princess’s diary. Not quite the loot I had in mind, but by that point, I was glad for it.

The game ended by informing me I had fallen into the void or something. I have no idea how. Did I step on the wrong thing? Did I run out of time?

There’s no readme in the download that I could see, there are no instructions I could find on the game’s page. I want to give this thing a fair shot, but at this stage, it’s completely impenetrable to anybody who hasn’t been programming it.

There may be a fun game here somewhere, but the dev has a lot of work in front of them to bring it to the surface.

Perhaps this one will be better:

Page 11, Game 11: Guppy by Christiaan Moleman

“2D watercolor fish simulation”

The fish are simulated with watercolors? I’m simulating fish that do water colors in their spare time?

Sounds pretty down-tempo and chill, regardless. Let’s take a look.

Justice Playthrough #66: Monster Pub Chapter 2

Oh, it’s a video game!

Page 14, Game 12: Monster Pub Chapter 2 by alex ilitchev

The stub description was “A casual narrative game about making friends!” Seriously, doesn’t that sound like one of the shortie RPGs I’ve been stumbling across? Define what kind of monster you all are, then roleplay chilling in a bar. Could be simple, could have some structure, will definitely lend itself to some boozin’s. I was kinda looking forward to it, actually.

But this is all right, too.

You’re a monster, you’re at a bar hanging out with other monsters.

That’s the game.

Getcha drink on

Make the rounds, chat. Some people have a little to say, others will have a full-on conversation with you — even the bartender, who will get you a drink. (Just the one. Monster Pub 2 does not encourage binge drinking.) There’s your buddy the fanfic writer, there’s a grumpy cat, there’s a mail carrier who’s a tad less dedicated to their job than Cliff Claven was, lots of folks.

How’s your day, muppet buddy?

Just … be warned. Interacting with the other monsters comes with risks. They may ask you to … play cards.

You cannot say no to cards. When cards are requested, cards must be played. It’s monster law.

Do not screw around with monster law.

FUCK

This would be a very chill, pleasant game about just hanging out and chatting … if it weren’t for the card games. There’s a two-player game and a solitaire game, and neither of them are particularly good. I’m not sure what exactly the rules in the solitaire game are supposed to be, save that I don’t know if it’s possible to actually lose. The two-player is just a combination of war and slapjack, and I found it wore out its welcome long before it was actually done. One game I actually just threw to get it over with, but the overall game seemed to get grumpy with that, so I tried to crush my “friends” as fast as possible to get it to move along.

I gather this is the second in an ongoing series of games, but it’s clear you don’t need to have played the one that came before.

Still, if you can overlook the card bits, it isn’t terrible. I actually quite like the vibe it was going for. I exported the friendships I made so that I can import them into Part 3 should I come across it, which I won’t be dreading.

Who knows, maybe we’ll get to play better card games by then.

Actually, wouldn’t that be insano-pants if I rolled that as the next game?

Page 30, Game 13: Dungeons of Loot by Luke Parker

“No Fight, Only Loot!”

You know, there was only a 1/1650 or so chance of that actually happening. And you wouldn’t have believed me if I had rolled it. I mean, I wouldn’t have believed me. I still don’t totally believe that I rolled Page 1 Game 1 just a few days ago, and I’m the one who rolled it.

Anyway. Looting IS one of the best parts of a dungeon run. Let’s see what happens when you skip that tedious “Earn it” nonsense.