After a brief detour into some indie games I hadn’t finished last year, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The dark, surreal story of An Outcry unfolds in an Austrian apartment complex, its run-down conditions half-justified by venomous notices from the landlord on the lobby billboard. The nameless protagonist goes door-to-door, asking neighbors on their floor for cigarettes while angry red text marks the words that are painful to hear: a gender that doesn’t fit, a deadname. Outside, cars squeal by over a package left in the street, and the creepy eyes of a right-wing politician leer from across the way.
In some other game, maybe, we might escape into a fantasy land. The world of An Outcry, however, is invaded. By large birds. They speak in rhyme, they smoke, they invite you to debate their hateful agenda. You can frantically kick and stomp them into the dirt, but maybe it’s better to not engage, to slip away once they tire themselves or to reject them altogether.
Though seen primarily from the squashed, top-down perspective of the RPG Maker style, some of the pixel art is quite intricate, and the game finds plenty of excuses to shift its perspective or adopt strange imagery. You navigate one sequence in first person, while another has you select a choice in the extreme close-up of an eyeball. (Also: one of the developers here, Quinn K. worked on a previously featured game, There Swings a Skull.)
The Night Spoke Our Names
Free in browser (Itch) | Ludipe
The boom in roguelikes and deckbuilders and deckbuilding roguelikes stems in part from their apparent hands-off quality. In the randomized trickle of items and abilities, you discover combinations that seem almost to break the game, and that might not be allowed in a more linear structure.
The Night Spoke Our Names feels like that. Its apparently simple template involves assigning the numbers from dice rolls, spending them on unlockable abilities or basic resource acquisition in hopes of stockpiling enough to survive the winter. You can buy a reroll, or you can enlist more people in order to roll more dice each turn. Then you see it: what about this combination? Does the game let you do that? And it does.
Red Tether sends your spaceship deep into the enemy system, intercepting their attack fleets as well as their supply ships and their asteroid mining equipment. It’d be a tall order even if you weren’t totally unarmed, stuck in a ship that isn’t built for smooth turns. When you stop to maneuver with the thrusters, you slow down just long enough for the hail of enemy fire to close the distance.
What you do have (which is more yellow-ish than the title suggests) is a tether. If you harpoon one ship to another ship, they’ll be pulled to mutual demise by deadly space physics, hopefully igniting a fuel spill for good measure. And if you attach your own ship to an object, you can pull it along like mobile cover or swing around in circles to take sharp turns or even use yourself as a wrecking ball. The game takes some figuring out and some getting used to, but it’s crunchy and exhilarating once you’ve gotten over the learning curve.
Free in browser (Itch) | Myth Atelier
In a world where sorcerers juice up magic by sacrificing their memories, you descend into the lair of the monstrosity guarding your nephew. There, you do turn-based battle by selecting from a menu made up of your life’s events. You weigh fond memories against the power they will give you, potentially doubling your damage by matching the enemy’s spell types but at constant risk of running dry. In this way, Mnemesis creates a fascinating frame for a non-linear narrative, like weaponizing the life flashing before your eyes. You glean the details of relationships right before they evaporate: memories of a wife, of magic, of the nephew you’re here to rescue in the first place. There are multiple endings based on your choices, and I have yet to find a happy one.
How Fish Is Made
Do fish feel pain? Do they have existential crises? Do they go to hell? These are some of the questions raised by the short, free, philosophical flopping simulator How Fish Is Made. You squish through pitiless machinery to your fate at the end of the line, encountering other fish changed by their interactions with human litter: a rubbery tube filled with something or other, a six-pack ring. One of them has composed a musical number. The game doesn’t answer all its questions, but, then, maybe the answer doesn’t matter very much at all.