Dark Fear

Steam Page || Official Site

Dark Fear is a horror-themed adventure game with some light RPG mechanics which puts its best foot forward. While it has some jumpscares, the focus is less on scaring the player and more on exploring the strange and haunted lands the amnesiac protagonist finds himself in. The game definitely stumbles in its final act, but the journey makes up for the shortcomings which crop up near the end.
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Steam Page

I never would have guessed that within the span of a single year I would be playing and writing about multiple kaleidoscopic, abstract black-and-white games released in September 2015 with gameplay centered around moving in circles while avoiding red hazards, but here we are. Circa Infinity with its mind-melting, psychedelic visuals was one of the best indie games I played in 2015 and, while it took me an entire year to stumble upon it, I love Expand with its more subdued, somber, and carefully controlled acts of mesmerization almost as much. However, the similarities between these two games largely begin and end with their basic concepts as Expand has its own brand of surprises in store for players.
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Below Kryll – Cartless Mine Cart Ride by Luther-Dewott (19e11)

Steam Page || Official Site

With the introduction of grind rails a level like this was bound to be made. This stage sticks almost entirely to the basics to create a short grind rail course with some sharp turns and a few tight jumps near the end. Falling off of the rails results in almost certain death, but other than a handful of jump pads near the end the focus here is entirely on a single track devoid of enemies and branching paths. While I wouldn’t want to see this degree of simplicity in every grind rail level, in this case the stage’s simple nature works in its favor to create a quick and highly replayable experience. The racing flag at the start of the track is a particularly essential component which goes well with the straightforward approach to level design here as it allows this level to transform into an intense competition between players striving to shave off precious fractions of a second from their top times. A long or extremely difficult racing level would become a chore to go through multiple times, but here it is easy and painless to restart over and over for the sake of achieving a better time.

Below Kryll – Barry and the Stone Tree by Reki (50w1)

Steam Page || Official Site

This map is primarily focused on its strange and silly story about Mitsu being forced into growing a giant tree made out of stone frogs, though it’s not entirely devoid of a few minor puzzle and platforming elements. It may sound strange, but the main strength of this map lies in the fact that it’s placed on the very first floor of the game, making it accessible to all players as early as possible. To see why this is such a large point in favor of this map, it is important to look at all the different elements which it introduces players to. As a story-oriented map, Barry and the Stone Tree includes many different types of interactions with NPC’s, signs, and collectibles for players to familiarize themselves with. It also utilizes the quest and logic gate components of Below Kryll‘s editor to expose players to many different gameplay elements with an easily understood loop; players receive a quest on the left, they complete that quest by killing an enemy, moving an object, or interacting with an NPC or a point of interest, and then go back to the left side to complete the quest, make the ‘tree’ grow, and take on the next quest in the list. There is very little danger here and all of the platforming is extremely simple, but as a first-floor map these are points in its favor. This is an easy map with a fun story which exposes players to various types of objects and interactions in an entertaining way, which is exactly what a level at the start of a game should be.

Below Kryll – Perilous Pistons by ikami (2w11)

Steam Page || Official Site

Our first Below Kryll level in quite a while is an old favorite of mine. Anyone who has made it to the second region of this game is probably no stranger to getting crushed in one way or another by all sorts of things, but what I like about this level is just how efficient it is. With a few moving platforms, a bunch of totem pole ‘pistons’, a nearly equal number of bouncy ecto cubes to make the pistons move, and no other objects or enemies to speak of beyond a single golden shuriken and a healthy number of checkpoints, Perilous Pistons creates a pleasantly varied set of platforming challenges.

Though the very first of these challenges is the danger-free task of jumping between two horizontally moving totem poles, the level soon lives up to its name with a set of pistons which players must quickly dash on top of and between while narrowly avoiding being crushed. The third challenge of this level is by far the longest and it forces players to avoid the pistons while jumping towards increasingly higher (and slightly narrower) platforms, which I particularly like because the nature of the playing area allows the challenge to change organically, especially when the halfway mark is reached and players must begin to time their jumps to dodge the pistons from above rather than from below. The final challenge in this level is entirely optional and requires just as much precision as the previous challenges with some minor additional puzzle elements, making it the most interesting and my personal favorite as players must watch the movement patterns of platforms to figure out where the save spots are to avoid being crushed while also figuring out how to reach the shuriken at the very end. Lastly, in addition to being an entertaining challenge, this level has some educational value for other creators as it’s on the very first floor of the second region and shows off a number of different ways in which to use these new objects.