Video games allow us to intimately interact with spaces to a degree unrivaled by any other medium. It’s a lesson I think most players learn eventually. It’s learned in that moment when we catch ourselves examining every discarded scrap of paper, every shadowy corner, and the contents of every mug and cup left on a table because we’ve been captivated by a world, whether it is wondrous or horrifying, and we desperately want to know as much about it as we can. I first learned this lesson at a young age via my Sega Saturn when Myst completely captured my attention with its melancholy, mysterious island, but every now and then a game like A Bright Light in the Middle of the Ocean comes around to remind me of it. (more…)
The two games in the Anyman series are incredibly short and slightly too easy for their own good while still being entertaining enough to be worth spending the roughly five minutes it takes to finish them. Despite some obvious references to the Mega Man series with a cast of robotic ‘mans’ and an evil scientist for an antagonist, the gameplay in this series is rather different. You play using only the mouse and right click to jump and left click to shoot. Each game consists of nothing but back-to-back boss fights and you get about a third of your maximum health back after defeating each boss. These fights all take place with Anyman on the left side of the screen and the boss on the right side, but the big twist here is that neither Anyman nor the bosses can move horizontally since they’re both technically running to the right at all times. With no horizontal movement, you need to rely entirely upon your jump to dodge attacks. Thankfully, you can jump indefinitely while in the air so you have quite a bit of vertical control, though bosses can jump just as much as you can and many of their attacks force players to balance their height near the middle of the screen rather than sticking to the ground or the very top. As for your attack, this is the one area where the gameplay more closely matches that of the Mega Man series as you have a gun which can shoot small bullets each time you click or you can charge it up for a stronger shot, though even here it’s not quite the same as your attacks can be freely aimed with the mouse and your weapon charges up in about a second with no middle step along the way.
Both games feature four fights against other robots followed by two fights against the antagonist, Dr. Alien. There are some interesting ideas for these robots, such as Pulse Man, who sends out red circles of various sizes which combine together and can be destroyed if you shoot them enough, while other robots are decidedly less original, such as in the case of Blade Man, who is virtually identical to Metal Man from Mega Man 2 aside from the lack of horizontal movement. You only have a single life to get through all six fights, but with the rather generous healing between fights and the low difficulty of the fights themselves the only real danger of death comes from the Dr. Alien fights. Though the second game is listed as being in an alpha state and will almost certainly never be finished, it seems to be free of bugs and all it is missing is a tutorial and the final, seventh fight so it basically has just as much content as the first game. In fact, the second game even has a bit more in the way of content because you can choose to play as Anygirl, who sacrifices the charge shot in exchange for a rapid-fire machine gun and the ability to hover in place whenever the left mouse button is held down. A higher difficulty setting would have been nice to have and a potential playtime of less than five minutes for each game makes them rather light on content, especially since they were not made as contest entries with time constraints to the best of my knowledge, but the gameplay is creative enough that both games are nevertheless fun little diversions.
This little game starring a Triangle Rotating In Space was created for Game Boy Jam 5, the same game jam which gave us Derelict. You can’t jump, all you can do is rotate from one tile to the next and let gravity take its course as you make your way to the ship at the end of each level while collecting water drops along the way. The quiet, minimalistic music works well alongside the muted red and green color scheme to give the game an otherworldly atmosphere while the louder sound effects help to put the focus on the action. Though there are only ten short levels, space is used extremely well with crumbling blocks, crushers, spikes, turrets, and spinning blades every step of the way with a few small safe areas for checkpoints.
The gameplay gets changed up somewhat on the fourth level where gravity is reversed and you must make your way to the top of the level, but a far more significant change is introduced soon after that. From the fifth level onward you gain the ability to flip in a straight line from the floor to the ceiling or vice versa. This new mechanic becomes an integral part of the platforming in T.R.I.S. as it is used for maneuvers such as dodging between turret bullets or flipping from a crumbling tile to a solid one while waiting for the timing on a crusher and then flipping back to the crumbling block after it respawns and rushing under the crusher. The difficulty level becomes fairly demanding later on, but frequent and well-placed checkpoints ward away any sense of frustration.
The fact that this game was created within a limited amount of time for a game jam becomes a bit apparent when it comes to the camera. Namely, the camera doesn’t move with you unless you’re on solid ground so flipping your orientation can result in a death if you fling yourself off the edge of the screen and this is fine on its own, but the camera is somewhat inconsistent. There were a few times when I would fly to a ledge near the edge of the screen and the camera would barely move, if at all, and at other times the camera would move a great deal. This usually isn’t a problem, but it can get in the way a bit if you’re trying to backtrack to a checkpoint or a water drop which has disappeared outside of the play area since you won’t know if the camera will actually let you backtrack until you get near the edge. Other than the minor camera issue, T.R.I.S. has consistently solid level design, the movement mechanics make the platforming interesting, and it effectively combines its various hazards together to make for an entertaining game which I only wish was longer.
This is a really short demo which, as you can see from the above video, can be finished in well under five minutes, but it shows plenty of promise for the future. This is a co-op sidescrolling action platformer where you take on the role of one of the ‘umbrella warriors’ tasked with saving sentient comets from scientists who have captured them in order to harvest their energy. It’s a weird setup, but it fits the comedic tone of the demo as you rampage through a city whose inhabitants consist of various types of dogs and small dragon people who come charging out from all sorts of places in the surrounding environment to attack you. There is clearly a lot of work left to do in the audio department as the only song in the game is a placeholder from Gradius III, but the graphics have a professional degree of quality to them. 3D environmental objects blend perfectly with the 2D character designs and the game makes great use of the environment surrounding the play area. A glass window in the background shatters to send shards of glass bouncing into the foreground, objects and streets can be seen far off in the distance, and an angry clock tower in the background attacks by spewing forth machine parts and extending its mallet-like fists into the play area. There is also a real sense of personality to the characters which reminds me of Alien Hominid as every enemy is quite expressive. In fact, even the piñatas you shoot for weapon upgrades are expression and the healthbar has a face which becomes increasingly worried the lower it gets. As far as presentation goes, this demo knocks it out of the park and the only thing it lacks in this regard is an official soundtrack.
The aesthetics are great, but what about the gameplay itself? This area is also quite good and the gameplay differentiates itself from other action platformers with the inclusion of the umbrellas wielded by our protagonists, which I’ll discuss momentarily. By default you have access to a steady stream of rapid-fire bullets and you can take three hits per life, but the demo includes three other weapons. The first of these is the camera, which slightly modifies the normal attack and periodically takes pictures to create a short-range stunning cone in front of you; it’s a great weapon, though the constant clicking from the camera’s photos can become a bit annoying. The second weapon creates mid-range bouncing fireballs which deal a high amount of damage and, while I think the weapon is fine, I personally do not like using it and wish there was a way to simply discard unwanted upgrades. Lastly there is the boomerang, which is great for hitting enemies at odd angles or which are above and below you; it’s a pretty standard boomerang weapon, but that’s entirely fine and it’s my favorite of the three. The game explicitly states that it’s fine to make physical contact with enemies and only outright attacks, which are marked with circles, can hurt you and this lack of contact damage allows for the play area to frequently be filled with hordes of enemies pouring in from all directions.
As to the umbrellas, these are essentially shields which primarily serve to deflect enemy attacks at the cost of a portion of your gradually refilling SP gauge, but deploying them in the air slows your falling speed to allow for larger jumps and any enemies which make contact with them get bounced away. With this trinity of uses, the umbrellas add a considerable amount of depth to the mechanic and the ways in which these abilities might be combined can already be seen in the playground at the end of the demo where the slow falling speed makes it easier to jump across playground equipment while simultaneously fending off rocks thrown by children below you. As to improvements which I hope to see in future demos, it would be great to have a proper boss fight at the end as the clock is a rather easy miniboss and the demo currently ends rather abruptly upon jumping into a sewer. I also think the turrets which pop out of the sidewalk in some places could use more in the way of visual and/or auditory cues before they fire their bullets. Otherwise, this is a fantastic early demo which definitely hits the two more important objectives of any demo – immediately grabbing your attention from the moment you start playing and showing off many of the core mechanics and unique features the game has to offer within a short period of time.
Now here’s a game about something most of us can relate to, though hopefully not to quite the same degree. Initially made as a Ludum Dare entry, Good Impression gives you a mere three minutes in which to clean up your impressively messy apartment before your mom arrives for an abruptly scheduled visit. Every plate must be washed, every stain must be rubbed clean, and every piece of trash must be disposed of as the clock continues to tick down and the music continues to escalate into a panicked frenzy. It may be tempting to toss a pile of unpaid bills into the closet or to shove an empty pizza box under the bed, but every inch of the apartment will be inspected and you can only make a truly good impression by putting everything where it properly belongs.
Good Impression excels at capturing the feeling of rushing to clean up for unexpected guests in a lot of little ways which makes the whole thing come together. Movement is slightly slippery and items are often far away from where they belong, which leads to fumbling around and running into furniture and pizza boxes while running around the room painfully aware of every wasted second. You need to mash X to clean up stains, but this also almost inevitably leads to temporarily dropping your improvised rag of choice after the stain is clean, wasting another second. Clothing is particularly tricky as the only way to tell clean and dirty clothes apart is to read the item names and even a single misplaced sock can tarnish your impression. The biggest factor of all in replicating the feeling of a hasty cleaning rush is the way storage works. First, items are removed from storage in the order in which they were put in, so if you realize that the last item placed in a storage container actually belongs somewhere else you’ll need to quickly pull out everything which came before it and scatter those items around the floor. Secondly, there isn’t a perfect amount of storage and what goes where isn’t always clear. Some hiding places have an excess amount of storage, others seem to have too little, and yet others just shouldn’t be used at all. Is there a way to toss all of the different types of pizza slices into a single box, just where can all the obvious trash go, and what can be shoved in the closet? These questions and more will race through your mind as you desperately tidy up your apartment and you’ll gradually gain a sense of accomplishment and pride at how clean the apartment begins to look, or at least you will until you realize that you left a dirty shirt on the floor behind the couch without a second to spare.