This week we dig into two more indie games that you may have missed. Our gaming editors, Collin and Johnny, love their indie games! So let’s see what’s trending in their personal zeitgeist this week.
For starters, I was able to complete my story run of Oxenfree, the 2016 Telltale-esque adventure game about a bunch of teenagers stranded on an island with time ghosts. I loved it to pieces. Like a really solid, 200 or so page novel, it manages to tell a whole lot without wasting words. The dynamic between characters is believable thanks to the top notch voice work, and the sound and graphics are just as good. There’s a strong emotional arc for the main character Alex as well, and it ties into themes of letting go of the dead that are used to resolve the main conflict. My run saw all the characters surviving and being on more or less good terms with one another, and I felt satisfied by this conclusion. I am curious to see how else it can play out, so I want to revisit it in the near future.
The other major game I played this week is The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED], a throwback to what’s been referred to as “cinematic platformers,” a genre arguably created by the original Prince of Persia game. Essentially, it was a slower paced, more methodical take on the traditionally reflex driven platformer, and they were also known for being brutally difficult. Contrary to what the name might suggest, The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] is actually an original creation inspired by the old cinematic platforming games rather than an actual remaster of an old title.
Taking place across six rather long levels total, your player character (whose gender you decide in the beginning when you decide to name them Adam or Eve) sets out to rescue their loved one from…something. There’s a rather obtuse wall of text that sets things up in the beginning, and it’s written in a way such that it’s very tough to read. The story is doled out in small, bite sized pieces, and does that Dark Souls thing of using the environment to convey backstory. It’s serviceable, but does a decent enough job providing context for the variety of environments you go through.
After the introduction, a nice, breezy tutorial, you can decide which order to tackle the levels in, and each one boasts a unique kind of setting and gimmick. The first one I chose was an abandoned church on a hill, and it used the game’s rather striking minimalist art style to convey a suitably eerie mood. The one that was most memorable for me, though, was one that sees you following resistance fighters against an oppressive faction. It’s pure action for most of its runtime, and culminates in an exciting chase across rooftops while a helicopter chases you. It was exhilarating, and definitely made me see why the genre is called cinematic platformer.
The big problem with the game, though, is that it’s almost too faithful to the genre. These games were marked by weighty, realistic physics, meaning your character has to wind up to jump and do other things, including drawing a gun. And for some reason, crouching requires a combination of button presses instead of just pressing the down button. This is tricky in the aforementioned war zone level, where you’re trading fire with enemies and you need to crouch and fire at the same time. It feels pointlessly convoluted. Additionally, jumping can sometimes feel imprecise. There’s noticeably input lag when you jump, and this is seemingly done on purpose, but just because old games used to do it doesn’t mean it has to. And lastly, the melee combat is just a matter of rushing in and button mashing and hoping for the best. Your character is the same color as enemies, meaning it’s very easy to lose them in the shuffle, and it winds up feeling more frustrating than enjoyable.
It’s a short game, clocking in at a little less than three hours for me on my first playthrough, but it’s memorable thanks to its striking art design. Sort of like how lo-fi horror games these days use dated aesthetic to their advantage (at least the good ones do), The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] has a shocking amount of detail using only a few colors at a given time, and the end result is a kind of frustrating but undeniably gorgeous looking game. It is, to me, a sale title, easily worth it if you can get it for half price. But the intentionally dated elements mean that for some, mileage may vary. I enjoyed my time with it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Another week, another Metroidvania style game. This week it’s Sundered: Eldritch Edition, for the Nintendo Switch. I have to admit, as much as I love the genre, I’m a little fatigued at this point. While Sundered is a good game, I don’t feel as if I’ll be completing it any time soon.
It’s far too similar to other, superior games, most noticeably Dead Cells. The character and level progression, the acquiring of permanent skills, and the (slight) randomization of the levels all feel a tad too familiar.
The animation is decent. It rides that fine line between stylistic and mobile-game quality, where you’re not sure whether it’s cheap looking or not. The controls are OK, but they ape so much of Dead Cells repertoire that they can’t help but feel inferior by comparison, due to DC‘s controls being so flawless.
If you like your randomly-generated action platforms you’ll be satisfied with this game, but it’s not without some flaws. The one I found most egregious was the random enemy spawns. Far too many of my runs were suddenly snuffed out by a sudden onslaught of enemies that felt unfair. Had I been exploring new areas, this wouldn’t feel so cheap. A new area brings new challenges. However, massive enemy spawns occur randomly and without warning, meaning you can simply be outmatched and outnumbered at any time. This leads to a feeling of being unfairly snuffed out. It also leads to you blindly attacking and roll-dodging merely trying to survive. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that you can easily lose track of your character in all the mayhem.
There is a skill tree that you can visit at the beginning of your run to power up your character in any way you choose, but this leads to you often having to dedicate a few runs to grinding in order to power through the enemy encounters. This isn’t Hollow Knight, with its difficult combat and clever enemy movements, it’s just mayhem.
The story (much like The Eternal Castle) is doled out in tiny drips and drabs, which I welcome as someone who favors gameplay over all else, but it didn’t engage me in any way. Lore-junkies may enjoy it, but it sort of went in one ear and out the other for me.
I suppose it sounds like I didn’t enjoy Sundered, when in fact it kept me entertained during my time playing it. However, it’s hard to ignore that it’s simply doing things other similar games do better. If you’re a fan of this type of game you won’t be disappointed, but it’s not going to surprise you in any significant way.