Signs of the Sojourner, The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines, Midnight Scenes, Frog Detective 2, Tales from Off-Peak City Vol.1.
Since the beginning of 2021, I seemed to have stumbled upon a schedule by accident; there is one article for both movies and games every Friday. I want to keep that schedule, so I decided (at least for games) to have a collection of shorter experiences ready, if the days leading to Friday show that my current project is not close to completion; as I am going through another large open world at this moment, that is the case for this Friday, but I knew this since last week. I ended up playing and finishing most of the games in the sub-heading, so I wanted to do an extravaganza because although I really like most of these games, there isn’t much to say on them individually, but should be more than enough for a roundup.
I want to start with “Signs of the Sojourner” (SOTS), because that is one of the games, I regretted not playing in 2020 since I really like the idea of the game and would want to have that in contention as well. Unfortunately, it would be in contention for the “I wish I liked more” list, rather than my favorites of the year list, since I was really disappointed with the game overall. I like the look of it, the soundtrack is pretty decent, and the concept is one that I immediately got behind; but the execution left me frustrated. The idea of the game is that the devs have used a card system to simulate a conversation and this is actually spot on in the final product as well; cards have a symbol on the left and right as well as possibly an extra feature, and you need to connect each end with the same symbols in order to make sense to each other. So, if you have cards that have the symbols X and O, you will find conversations easy to complete in areas with those symbols, but nearly impossible in other areas; the frustrating part comes in the progression of this system. You only have 10 slots available that are persistent until the end, so replacing all your cards as you move along your path and encounter new symbols will come in handy for your trip, but you can’t converse with your best friend back home because he uses symbols you don’t. That means this is one of those dreaded games that requires multiple playthroughs to see everything, however it is also heavily focused on a narrative with characters and storylines, so it goes further into the replayability territory where you should devote the first run of the game in figuring out characters and their personalities, and the second run committing to seeing their stories and going on their path. As you may have picked up on, I hate that and I wish it was a more straightforward experience than that, because I really do like the idea and some interesting notions stemming from it are only possible with this execution (like the fact that regardless of how much you want to discuss things through with everybody, you can’t mechanically), but I do hope it is successful for the studio and they get to experiment with these ideas some more; hopefully, their next attempt will be a lot closer to what I wanted.
This next game is very similar and it is also the last game on this list I didn’t finish, because it turned into something, I didn’t want it to be. “The Ambassador: Fractured Timeline” is a top-down, twin-stick shooter/brawler with a time-manipulation mechanic; that’s not entirely original, but it was part of a Humble Bundle and wanted to give it a go as it seemed interesting. Visually, it is not; it uses a fairly generic pixel-art style and there’s nothing that makes it look different from every other pixel-art game out there. Mechanically, it is solid; it uses the time-manipulation gimmick to great effect, essentially forcing players to use it to solve puzzles, survive the levels, and pull of cool moves. I would have liked the weapons to feel more impactful, however it is good enough in how it ‘feels’ to play; where it falls apart for me though is the structure and the motivation. In terms of story, the game is very light on that and mostly rewards players that want to play this game in a particular way; replay the level until you can get the best time, then move on. That’s fine, but not for me. In terms of structure, it is a level-based game, which is fine, and it is open-ended in which worlds need to be completed first, but there is a sudden and huge difficulty spike at the end of these worlds with the boss fights. If you play this game like I did, where as soon as I could move on from a level I did, then you’ll probably find the levels to be fairly casual to get through, but the bosses are way too frustrating to be any fun for me, which is why I stopped.
While we are on the subject of pixel-art, Octavi Navarro should be a name that fans of the style should be familiar with, but in the off-chance you are not, Octavi Navarro might be the best at this style currently working. Their job is uniquely grotesque, spooky, and mesmerizing to look at; if you need convincing beyond the screenshots, try out “The Supper” it’s a free experience on Steam. After doing that, you should then go ahead and buy “The Midnight Scenes” games, because they are really cheap, short, and incredibly impactful minisodes. They are clearly inspired by the Twilight Zone, they are creepy, amazing to look at, point & click adventure games, with a lot of love and effort clearly put in them. I’m clearly a fan and I want to support devs (especially indie) as much as possible, so this is a pretty cool collection of imaginative and effective horror games and I want to play more of them!
Another game I wanted to play more of was “The Frog Detective” and I just played the sequel, and it is even more charming and wholesome than the first, which I thought was not humanely possible! This is a franchise about a wholesomely goofy and naïve detective who explores a place and its inhabitants/suspects and solves mysteries, and the sequel adds a bit more to the world and toolset of the detective (he now has a customizable notebook), but mostly this is a point & click adventure game about having a wholesome and silly good time with cute anthropomorphic animals, and more people should play them; they are both under 2 hours long, with the sequel having some replayability value and they are relatively cheap, but super worth it!
Last, but not least, “Tales from Off-Peak city Vol.1” (TFOP). Similar to my introduction for Octavi Navarro, if you are a fan of existential nightmarish experiences and surrealist imagery that haunts you, you are a fan of Cosmo D. If you are interested in those experiences, Cosmo D has a free game and demo on their Steam page, so if you need convincing check those out first, and then go buy their games. They are wonderfully bizarre creations that captivate and creep you out in equal measure; TFOP in particular, had me laughing, staring in suspense, and actively having an existential nightmare evenly throughout its 2 hour playthrough. I won’t say anything else on this, because I went in blind and got so much out of it, but I will try to sell you with the premise: You are a person going to Off-Peak city as a “spy” to infiltrate a pizza-place that a former musician operates, in order to steal their prized saxophone. Everything else is a wonderful surprise you should find out on your own…
That’s it for my review extravaganza! All these games are relatively short, and cheap, experiences and I hope you find something that interests you. Not all are great and some are incredibly specific, so I hope you found something new and worthwhile.