Price: £11.39 (Soundtrack £5.79, “A Study of Gliese 677Cc” (book), £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
Exploring alien worlds, with new life… We see it a lot in fiction. What we don’t see so often is a world that gets properly explored. Oh, those pretty plants? What’s their function, their relation to other species, how does it fit into the ecosystem, and… Is it actually healthy?
Well, this is all a consideration to an exobiologist, and indeed, In Other Waters, that would be all that you’d be worrying about outside of your own health. But the protagonists of In Other Waters have other problems. One, the human Dr. Ellery Vas, has been summoned to this world by an old… Well, their feelings are conflicted… Let’s say friend for now. Except she’s nowhere to be found, and her bases have been abandoned.
The other is you, the suspiciously advanced AI of a diving suit, and a malfunctioning suit at that. You’re her only hope. Both to survive… And to solve the riddles of Gliese 677Cc, a world where all may not be well.
Or, y’know, nature is just being nature, and you and Dr. Vas happened to stop in at a bad time. That could be it too. I’m not telling you.
Still, what this results in? Is a minimalist game, in an undersea world which doesn’t really know you, and you don’t know it. Dr. Vas is fascinated, because, well, scientist, and she tries her best to understand the role of the various species she encounters, adding them to a rough taxonomy. Even as an expert, she isn’t sure of what’s going on, but she makes reasonable, educated guesses. And, despite the fact you can’t talk, she tries to communicate with you. After all, the friend she was looking for doesn’t look like she’s anywhere around. You’re all that’s left.
And, as such, it’s a game where you read about beauty… Yet, as a suit, it’s a sterile radar display, a UX for a robot, function, direction… You can see the movement of creatures, hear the water, the hissing of toxins clogging your rebreather, sometimes noises of the various animals and plants and fungi… But you are disconnected from it all. Just as Dr. Vas… Ellery… Is disconnected from her friend, and cannot properly communicate with you, disconnected from you in a different way.
You are all, in a sense, strangers in a strange land, alone, seeing beauty, trying to understand it… But you aren’t part of it. And the music, this UX, clean, easily understood, yet sterile, the way the world is presented… It all adds to one feeling, a feeling that’s strange for a game of exploration. Well, sort of strange. It fits well here, for example.
Loneliness. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s a lonely game, in several respects.
But here’s the thing: It wants you to explore its world. It eases you in, and each area has a sort of puzzle associated with it. How to get creatures to come out of their hidey holes. How to put others back in. How to maybe, just maybe, clear a toxic area with local plantlife just long enough to get where you need to go without Dr. Vas running out of oxygen, causing an override to your suit.
And I recommend it. I recommend its serene bleakness, the beauty you can only read about, and not experience for yourself, not fully. I recommend its story about searching for truth and piercing the veil of secrets, on several levels. It’s slow… But it’s good.
I’d like to be… Beneath the sea… In a… Sod, this doesn’t actually work. Beep boop, I can human well.
Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £5.79)
Where To Get It: Steam
Perspective is a very funny thing. It can trick us. It can aid us, although not always in time. Looking at it differently allows us to change, or to empathise with others. But it can also damn us if we don’t change it.
How does that bear on a puzzle game in which you seem to be trapped in an Augmented Reality meant to be for your therapy? Well… Everything. Because fighting through the nightmare you find yourself in requires you to look at things a different way. Here, let me illustrate.
Take the nearest cuboid object to you that you can lift easily. For me, it’s one of my vape juice containers. Hold it up at arms length in front of you. Looks okay, right? Now hold it in between your eyes, and, as expected, it looks bigger. Hold it end first, and, as expected, it looks longer.
So far, so expected, right? Well, the thing about Superliminal is that changing the perception of an object’s size changes its size. You have to pick something up to do it, but essentially, every puzzle is about perspective, be it looking at things from a certain angle to turn them into objects, picking something up and holding it in such a way it appears bigger to make it bigger, or smaller, understanding how perspective can trick us into thinking there’s no hole in a shadowy room, even if the room’s well lit…
Perspective. And the way the story progresses is also about perspective. Although I really can’t explain how, or why it’s connected to feelings of hopelessness, imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety… Without getting into massive spoiler territory. Hell, just saying that has spoiled something for a fair few people.
But I like it, even if some puzzles are infuriating. Apples. Ohhhh, apples have been the bane of my existence at least once. You will scream when you get one in particular. Please don’t throw things. You probably need those things you want to throw. Deep breaths… Deeeeep breaths.
In any case, even though it’s a somewhat short game if you know exactly what to do, it all comes together pretty neatly in the end with an “Ah” moment (probably combined with a “You bastard” moment), its puzzles, while sometimes infuriating, are clever, and, for puzzle fans, this one comes recommended.
But that’s just my perspective. Maybe you’ll see it. Maybe you’ll have to shift your head around a bit to see it. Maybe you never will.
The Mad Welshman has to see a hero(ine)’s perspective. How else can he craft his easily escaped deathtraps so they find it easy to escape?
Price: £23.79 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam
I love ghost stories. Tales of regrets, of vengeance, and sometimes, of telling a loved one it’s okay from beyond the grave. I also hate them, because few of their endings are happy, and even the “happy” ones are most often bittersweet.
And so it is with Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, where I refuse to believe the ending called the Best Ending is, in fact, the best. And, to put it bluntly, some of the endings can fuck right off.
But, honestly, that’s what grief is. And grief, and the delusions thereof, the regrets, the unfulfilled desires, is essentially what it’s about.
Oh, and somebody who wants to murder existence itself. But that’s more set dressing, more characters for the plot to revolve around, more endings. We’ll get to the endings, believe me. But first, the game in general.
Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. Soft, bishy visuals (no really, look at these cute boys! Unf!) and beautiful music, along with some solid Japanese voice acting, make this pleasant to play. It also has a VN flowchart, which, as I may have said before, is a godsend in general.
However, for some endings of the game, it’s a pain in the ass, because you still basically have to play the routes from certain parts. So I’m two endings short, because I cannot be arsed to go through the entire game again just to get them. Besides, I’ve already unlocked the “Best” ending (Bullshit. The Happy Ending is much better.) And then there’s the minigame.
Look, I love a good minigame, which probably gets me some weird looks. But I had an abysmal time with the butterfly shooting game, which you’ll have to do several times, either in the main menu or by selecting a chapter where you fight one of the dangerous shadows of the mansion. On keyboard, it seems to only take one input at a time, on mouse, if it goes outside of a window, you have to click back at the window, wasting valuable time (and probably a butterfly)… And considering it’s the method to unlock the side stories (necessary for certain endings), I was… Annoyed. See also the lack of fastskip.
The thing is, overall? This is a solid, well written visual novel, and I basically played this in one sitting, all the way through (except the Yamato endings. Sorry dude), before writing this review. I don’t often manage to get a VN like this played through in one sitting, and that’s basically a recommendation right there.
So, for folks who like a good supernatural or psychological horror, this one comes recommended.
Okay… Now we deal with the story. Five amnesiac characters, one of which is our lady protagonist, who wake up in a strange mansion, immediately hunted by beasts who used to be people, and cryptically told to finish some sort of kaleidoscope, by finding gems dropped from said beasts wot used to be people. And it’s got its scary moments, its heartwarming moments, its heartbreaking moments, and its funny moments.
SPOILERS NOW AHEAD(more…)