2023 IGF nominees: good old adventures
Friday, January 27, 2023
You may recall that I wrote a blog post on recent old-school narrative games just a few months ago. Unsurprisingly, a bunch turned up as IGF entries. So I've written half this post already!
- Return to Monkey Island
- The Excavation of Hob's Barrow
- The Past Within
- Beacon Pines
(Necessary footnote: I was on the narrative jury and had access to free review copies of these games. Of course, I'd played some already, but I played Ib, Beacon Pines, and Backfirewall for free.)
Return to Monkey Island
- by Terrible Toybox -- game site
A satisfying return to a world which I never played in the first place, but that's okay. I know most of the jokes. This polishes and modernizes the gameplay; it keeps the jokes light, the story fresh, and the puzzles non-stupid; it's appropriately reflective about its long history. And Dominic Armato enjoys every chance he gets to say "Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate!" You can tell.
The Excavation of Hob's Barrow
- by Wadjet Eye Games -- game site
Ancient horror on the moors of England. Lots of classic person-needs-you-to-do-one-thing gameplay. Lots of misty landscapes. (Albeit in pixel-art form, which I don't think does them any favors.) You're a spunky adventuress, but don't expect a spunky adventure; this is folk horror and the fix is in. Just warning you.
The Past Within
- by Rusty Lake -- game site
A two-player coop adventure in the Rusty Lake universe. You have to pass clues back and forth to advance. The game mechanics are rather constrained, and the story is the usual Rusty-Lake creepy bagatelle. But the idea is novel and it's a fun coop experience.
(Or so I assume. I totally cheated and soloed it on two screens.)
- by Hiding Spot Games -- game site
Cute cartoon kids' adventure. The design is rather interesting: a branching narrative where you have to explore all the branches. The storyline in each branch unlocks new choice options which can be used in different branches, so you get an expanding tree rather than a traditional choice-of-endings. This means that you-the-reader often know more than the protagonist; the story reveals itself piecewise as you put together events from different run-throughs.
This is not an entirely new trick. (There was a 2001 game called Shadow of Destiny / Shadow of Memories. Plus any number of play-all-paths visual novels.) But it's not nearly as common as the (now-overdone) time loop gimmick, so I was happy to see this.
The story itself left me a little cold, though. It starts out cute and then goes dark, but in a somewhat ragged and incoherent way. Crass one moment, cold-blooded murder or body horror the next, and then it goes back to cute and goofy and the power of friendship. Eventually it more or less settles down to YA adventure ("kids foil villainous adult plot") but I never really connected with it.
Also there's this coy narrator who never really comes into focus. I suppose she's needed to clarify the story structure for narrative newcomers, but I expected her to be connected with the story itself. Is the game's temporal macguffin supposed to be connected with the narrative history-sliding? I don't see it. (Go ahead, tell me I missed a clue.)
The art is pretty good, and it's doing something narratively interesting, but I wasn't entirely convinced.
- by Naraven -- game site
You're an update process running around somebody's phone trying to update the OS. But cartoony, not Tron-style. The NPCs are all like the Photos app, the Social Media app, the Zip utility, and so on.
It's a first-person puzzle game. There's tiny bits of platforming and stealth, but not hard stuff. Nice variety of puzzles, too. Sort of a first-person point-and-click? It's not the usual inside-the-computer schtick of endless arbitrary logic puzzles. (Yeah, yeah, I see you pointing at System's Twilight. These are way more adventure-y puzzles.)
It's fluff but a fun ride.
- by kouri -- game site
Remake of a horror RPGMaker game from 2012. I didn't catch it (probably because it was in Japanese) so I'm glad folks drew it to my attention this time around.
You're a little girl running around a modern art gallery with your parents. Then the lights flicker, your parents are missing, and the art starts to turn creepy.
This is really nicely done. Getting a recognizable art style into a gallery of thumb-sized pixel art is no mean trick. (The original had even fewer pixels!) The gameplay is mostly puzzles, which are decently done and creepy enough to not break the atmosphere as you crank your way through the clues. I'd say the game didn't need a hit-point gauge, but more modern horror games have made that mistake so I'm not complaining.
Short but memorable and (I am told) influential as well.