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Home: a unique horror adventure - Windows (June 1st, 2012)

by Sam Derboo - April 12, 2013

Old-School Collector's Edition with feelies

The protagonist of Home is a nameless guy who wakes up in an unknown house with a wounded leg. Just in the next room lies the mutilated corpse of a man. Trying to find his way out of the property, he soon stumbles over details about the house and its inhabitants, but also more gruesome discoveries and unsettling connections to his own life.

Home borrows many common horror tropes: The first person door animations are known from classic Resident Evil, and the whole world is covered in darkness, save for the dim light of a lamp, found all too conveniently just where the hero woke up. There are also some well-applied shock moments, like a cat that quickly jumps away as one walks toward it, but the most essential element of horror, a sense of immediate threat, is missing. It's clear early on that there's no actual danger lurking in the shadows.

While Home can be completed within an hour, the game's appeal is to do things differently upon replay and see what changes. Often that just means taking or leaving items, examining or missing clues. But some obstacles can also be passed in several ways. So in the beginning it's possible to jump down a broken ladder at the cost of the hero's hurt leg, while finding another means to descend saves him the pain.

There are no "wrong" decisions, though. The changes are merely nuances in the narrative, and ultimately what the player learns about what happened. Piecing together the clues (aided by post-chapter summaries) is what Home is all about. The alternative narratives are cleverly crafted, but with neither failure nor success it becomes a matter of just limping through with whatever choices and then maybe get some other results by doing the opposite the next time. At the end awaits an optional twist that doesn't really work out, as it renders earlier scenes meaningless.

It's also questionable if the low-detail pixel graphics were the right choice for a horror game. The hero cannot but keep the same dopey look throughout the story, no matter what happens to him. Sure, it has been that way in countless great classics, but Home never gets all that disturbing due to the lack of visual nuances. The flashback-like narration in silent movie style cut-away text panels is neat, though.

Nonetheless Home is a fine exercise in interactive storytelling and other developers should look at it for inspiration. It is, however, not much of a game. Praised as "King's Quest meets Heavy Rain," all it got from the former are the blocky graphics. Puzzles never go beyond holding the lamp aloft to reveal items or pulling a lever more than once. Benjamin Rivers wants "evolution in the adventure genre," to engage players on "that unique mental level." Traditional adventure puzzles might not be the optimal way to tell an interactive story, but here there's nothing "gamey" to replace them. Home's intriguing narrative is stunning, but offers no solution to the old problem of combining gameplay and story for the benefit of both.

Homepage


Quick Info:

Designer:

Benjamin Rivers

Genre:

Adventure: Other

Themes:

Contemporary: Suburban
Horror
Player Character: Amnesiac

Type:

Commercial


Home

Home

Home

Home


Little Inferno - Windows, Wii U, iOS, MacOS, Linux (November 18th, 2012)

by Sam Derboo - April 12, 2013

Title Screen

Little Inferno is the result of the creators of the acclaimed World of Goo teaming up with the director of Henry Hatsworth, and the game's aesthetics show a strong familiarity with the former. Yet it is a very different game - if it can even be called that.

Strictly speaking, it's simply a not-too ambitious physics toy, revolving all around burning stuff. The world in the game is frozen in perpetual winter, and thus all its inhabitants spend their days at home throwing all kinds of things into their Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace and incinerate them to kill time and keep themselves warm. And that's all the player does, with a very weird self-sustaining economy: Everything that's placed in the fireplace has to be bought first, burning it down by holding a mouse-click flame to it yields more money and the occasional instant-delivery coupon, enabling to buy more stuff at the store. In the unlikely event someone ever manages to run out of money this way, little spiders crawl the place, which burst into a coin when clicked at.

There is one puzzle mechanic to keep Little Inferno at least somewhat gamelike, and that are the Combos of two or more matching items burned together. They're all basically word riddles, because their trigger is hidden between more or less cryptic names like "Time Bomb" or "Easter Bunny." Triggering enough combos unlocks the next page in the catalog of things to buy and destroy. Some items yield special effects, and everything either behaves like one would expect or in some fantastic manner: There are multi-colored and pixellated flames, popcorn pops, blowtorches actually work, bombs explode, and some of the higher-tier items can even mess with gravity. Sometimes the items are rather adorable, and one would have to be quite cynical to not hesitate for a moment before letting someone's sad family photo, the cutest stuffed animals or a bug that's just hatching from its egg go up in flames - but in the end, one does it anyway. Buy and burn, buy and burn.

Occasionally the game does point out the vanity and the nihilism of it all in short animated scenes in a surprisingly grim manner, but most of the world building and the game's existentialist message comes through the mail "interactions" with the old lady who invented Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, the weatherman with his bleak forecasts, and a little girl that's also sitting in front of her Little Inferno and somehow managed to get in contact with the player. She is somewhat deliberately annoying, but through light, child-like philosophical musings, the exchange of sometimes unique and personal items and a general good-heartedness, she should manage to win most people's hearts.

Little Inferno might seem like a pointless toy at first. In fact, the game itself states that "Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace was designed to not matter." All this, however, all the mindless burning and seemingly meaningless mail exchanges build up to a breathtaking finale. But is that worth ten bucks and three hours of mindless, unproductive pointing and clicking? Why yes, yes it is!

Homepage


Quick Info:

Developer:

Tomorrow Corporation

Programmer:

Allan Blomquist

Designer:

Kyle Gabler
Kyle Gray

Genre:

Puzzle
Recreation

Themes:

Physics
Unique Visuals

Type:

Commercial


Little Inferno

Little Inferno

Little Inferno

Little Inferno

Little Inferno


Rework the Dead: Evil - Windows (2011)

by Gendo Ikari - April 19, 2013

Title Screen

Rework the Dead: Evil is very loosely based on an old webcomic, in fact it keeps only the basic concept of a zombie apocalypse with furry characters, which is far from making the tone lighter: right from an incredibly morbid developer logo, this is one of the most graphically violent free games you'll come across, with blood and guts flying around, even onto ceilings when you use the bigger guns. Fleeing an invasion of Reworks (just another way to say "zombies"), the dog protagonist takes shelter in an underground military complex to escape the upcoming nuking of the city. Unfortunately the inside is no safer, and as he descends deeper, creatures seemingly beyond the capabilities of the Rework virus start to appear. Things get increasingly screwy from there, culminating in an ending that's left deliberately open to interpretation.

At its core, the game is a clone of the 1995 cult classic Abuse, sometimes known as "the Doom of platformers," and one of the first 2D action games to successfully use a keyboard and mouse combination. The main menu, the terminals and even some visual elements are practically lifted from it. RtD:E puts a bigger emphasis on aiming, though: not going for the head is a sure way to waste bullets. Later weapons are very powerful (there's even a BFG9000 equivalent, although its secondary fire, a force field, is much more useful), but ammo is constantly scarce, so don't ever think about forgetting your starting handguns, and only while holding them you can toss grenades, anyway. The pace is less frenetic than in Abuse, but more aggressive players are rewarded by a "gore score" that goes higher the longer and quicker a succession of kills is. A stamina bar determines of much you can run, and weapons cannot be used while running. Curiously, it becomes an oxygen meter when swimming, so don't take a dive right after running.

The healing system is a bit questionable: it's based on adrenaline shots, and when you use one you also get unlimited stamina for a while... and then the bar stays depleted for an equal amount of time. Needless to say it's not what you need in those sticky situations where you want to heal in a hurry and flee. Other rough edges include the ability to save only between levels (at least some mid-level checkpoints would have been appreciated), points where it's very difficult not to take damage due to sudden enemy ambushes, and the design of some boss encounters - when you have to include a hint file in case players cannot figure how to kill them, you did something wrong.

The average quality is good throughout most of the game though, and the furry element so marginal it shouldn't be discriminating. RtD:E is solid and challenging, and worth the ride just to see the cool and powerful final weapon towards the end.

Friendly warning: At some point you'll be tricked into thinking you're at the end. There's something you must not do to go on!

rpgmaker.net Project Page

Game Jolt Mirror

Quick Info:

Developer:

Happy Rainbow Panda Bears

Designer:

Barry "Beaker" Rowe

Genre:

Action: Sidescrolling

Themes:

Going Underground
Gore
Player Character: Anthropomorph
Run-'n-gun

Type:

Free


Rework the Dead: Evil

Rework the Dead: Evil

Rework the Dead: Evil

Rework the Dead: Evil


A Tale of Two Kingdoms - Windows (July 15, 2007)

by Gendo Ikari - April 26, 2013

Title Screen

Maeldun Whiteblade, hero of the uprising that stopped the expansionism of King Vortigern of Theylinn, is now a guest in the castle of the latter, who has requested assistance against the common menace of a goblin horde. The king is then killed and Maeldun, framed for the murder, must clear his name, solve the goblin problem and find the evil mastermind that wants to take advantage of the situation. His quest will also bring him to the second of the eponymous kingdoms: Thierna na Oge, realm of the Fair Folk.

While it contains elements from Celtic myths, A Tale of Two Kingdoms is first and foremost a love letter to Sierra's King's Quest series, a medieval fantasy tale with many of the ingredients of the genre: the aforementioned goblins, an evil wizard, a good druid, a dumb giant, and so on. The classic Sierra interface is also there: a bar to select actions, inventory and options appears when the cursor is dragged to the upper border of the screen, and actions can also be cycled with the right mouse button. There's not one, but two different scores, Wisdom and Honor, and some bad actions can cause the latter to decrease. During conversations, characters can be asked to perform actions, like observing objects or giving them to Maeldun. The hero is not afraid of water: he can cross rivers and ponds, and swim in the sea.

The quality of music, scenarios and animation is not always consistent but most of the hand-drawn backgrounds are little works of art, especially the locations in the woods. There's even a 3D rendered movie near the end but while it's relatively well done, it clashes with the rest of the visuals.

What's most impressive about AToTK is its scale. It takes place only in the city of Carbonek, a nearby village and the surrounding region, yet it is filled to the brim with things to do, and most of the time there's not even a set order to perform them. Some situations have two or three different solutions, and many puzzles and sub-quests are optional, although some are needed to reach the best of the five possible endings.

The faithfulness to the Sierra spirit means also the same weaknesses, though: Useful items are not highlighted by the cursor, causing a few instances of pixel hunting, and there are literally dozens of ways to die, each followed by an epitaph in rhyme. For all the non-linearity and content, getting stuck not knowing what to do next is common (no unwinnable situations though, thankfully); you'll likely have to keep the official walkthrough handy. Still, it this not enough to bring down the game's many qualities. At the time of release, AToTK was one of the most ambitious projects made with Adventure Game Studio, and it offers a replay value that's unseen in most adventures.

One final question remains: for all the effort put into the game, did the player character have to be as flat and boring as Maeldun?

Homepage


Quick Info:

Developer:

Crystal Shard

Genre:

Adventure: Point & Click

Themes:

Fantasy

Type:

Free


A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two Kingdoms


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