Say No! More and Minute of Islands
One of my favorite indie studios is Image & Form of SteamWorld fame mainly because of their ability to tackle different genres with the execution, balance, and maturity of seasoned developers of that genre. Studio Fizbin is not one of my favorite indie developers – in fact, I only became aware of them this year – but they had an interesting year; they released three (!) games, all with different styles, gameplay, and narrative ideas, and visions. I played two out of three of those games and I wanted to examine them and see if they overlap in any interesting ways and if they are any good.
I want to start with the game that initially earned my attention, simply because of its unique concept: “Say No! More”. The premise for it is, unfortunately, a common occurrence in the modern workplace; your loud, Waluigi-looking, manager taking the Unicorn-themed lunchbox that your broke roommate prepared for you in order to soften you up and make you pay rent for him again this month. Well, the specifics may differ for everyone, but the theme rarely will; workplace subordination. As an intern, you are expected to oblige your manager and simply say “yes” to his absurd requests or to any degrading busywork being handed off to you, because you are at the bottom of the food chain and at the beginning of your career, so naysayers won’t go that far especially when the other two interns are more than happy to oblige. Thankfully, in the hole behind the vending machines that the manager stuffs you in and calls it ‘your office’, you find a cassette with an energetic and muscly instructor to teach you the awesome ability to say “No!” to these absurd demands; he will teach you to say no in different styles with different intensities, and he will guide you towards getting that lunchbox back and gaining self-esteem to keep saying no. As you’d expect, this is a quirky and funny game of fewer than two hours worth for a single playthrough with some replayability merit. What may not be as obvious is that this is in essence an interactive QTE movie with a surprisingly competent story that does have its dramatic moments – it mostly has goofy, over-the-top satire, but it does want to pass on a message. It does lack variety and depth in gameplay terms, but there is a sense of progression or choice at spots that I didn’t expect; it’s also the best “meme” game I’ve played thus far. It wasn’t born out of a meme, but it does feel like the devs wanted to make this game because it would be a good joke, then decided to actually make it and deliver something more than just goofs (which they did), but maybe overpriced it a little at 15 euros; the experience is funny and well-thought-out one, but simply pressing the space bar a few times, in the beginning, will cover the basics of what the rest of the game will be like. For that, I do think this game should have started at a lower price; also, people who are given an option to yell “Nein” and instead choose any other version of “No” should take a long hard look in the mirror, because that is half of the joke and makes the game 10x times better.
Minute of Islands could not be more different. It is a gorgeous-looking, narrative-heavy, puzzle-platformer about self-destruction, grief, and how to deal with trauma. Where “Say No! More” tries to elevate the “experience” part of its offering, Minute of Islands is more interested in the narrative; neither game have interesting mechanics, systems, or challenging the player through gameplay, but instead opt to offer experiences that rely on wit and strong writing. Minute of Islands suffers from this methodology the most. It has long, often tedious, animations and the character feel like they are moving 15% slower than they ought to; alongside the basic puzzles and the often time-wasting it requires, this made Minute of Islands a game I did not enjoy playing. However, once the final act started and the narrative completely took over, I was won over by the story, the characters, and the heartstrings pulled by the intimate examination of the themes that are central to the game. That was not due to long animations, the frequent pace breaks to watch the boat reach another island before waiting through another load screen, or the puzzles that feel like they were added at the last minute. It was because of the clarity of intent, the voice-acting, the artistry, and the writing.
Writing, in particular, is a weird commonality between these two games, but Studio Fizbin clearly has talented developers that have a tight grasp on narrative, regardless if it’s a silly parody or a dark rumination on serious themes. Another common trait seems to be their disinterest in mechanical challenges for their games and instead of treating mechanics, systems, and interactive moments as a narrative tool rather than an interactive one; Say No! More and Minute of Islands have completely different mechanical identities, but in both cases, it is about delaying, setting up, or elevating the narrative point of that section.
What all of their games have in common though, is that aura of it being worked on by people who gave it their all and did it because they loved it. I’m not a die-hard fan of theirs after playing two of their three offerings this year, but I will check back on them because I can see how good they are and how passionate they are about their experiences.