Keep It Together (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $5 AUD (Approximately £3)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

I’d just like to say I’m very honoured to be… Wait, shit, no, umm… This game is quite an interesting one because wait you keep on using that word fuck fuck no bad wrong… I’d like to talk this game up NO, NO, NO, TOO NEGATIVE, AAAARGH!

Omigod, I’m losing containment! THE RATS ARE DESERTING THE SHIP AAAAA!

Keep It Together is a game about social anxiety. Also about being a coat full of rats pretending to be a human. It’s simple, it’s clever, and I like it a lot because of this. Before we go into why it’s clever, let’s talk a teeny bit about social anxiety.

Social interaction is, even to those relatively well versed in it, a bit of a minefield. This person doesn’t like pop culture references. This one likes being flirted with, but has an image they feel they have to maintain of being a loner. This writer thinks the first two are assholes, and wonders loudly why the hell you’re trying to be friends with them. This is before we get into things like politics, other mental health issues, other belief systems, whether they smoke, whether they like cats or dogs… Social interaction is, put bluntly, intimidating if you’re not good at it. Even if you are, you may not be able to handle a whole lot of it, because of the fear that you are fucking it up. Which is awful, because having social anxiety doesn’t mean you want to be antisocial, or even to be perceived as antisocial. It’s just that there’s a lot of things that can stress you out just through what many consider perfectly normal social situations.

A perfectly normal social situation. The right approach nets me a sense of well being and more conversation…

Cue Keep It Together, and our colony of rats. They want to talk to people… But they don’t know the cues, people keep coming and going, and every wrong thing said stresses out this bunch of rats just that little bit more. Once a single stress bar fills, not only are you having to literally guess what a person likes and dislikes, response wise, suddenly, you’re also having to hold down a button. And then two… And then three. And it’s not going to get better. Fail to hold these buttons down, and you fail to keep yourself together. Fail to keep yourself together, and you break up, retreat, and the rats are openly described as feeling like a failure.

It’s clever, in short, because it’s simple. Anxiety isn’t a sudden thing, although it can be if you’re already stressed. It’s a mounting pressure, and while you want to stay, you’ve said The Wrong Thing (even if it was not, in fact, that big a deal.)

…The *wrong* approach leads to stress, and a harder time of keeping it together. I KNEW I SHOULDN’T HAVE SAID THAT, CRAP CRAP CRAP.

It’s not a big game. It’s not an expensive game (quite the opposite.) It’s not a complex game. But it’s a very tightly designed game, with a firm grasp on its theme, and as such, I recommend it quite highly. Its music is quite friendly, its visuals are nice and clear… Props.

The Mad Welshman has no smart aleck comment this time. It’s not the sort of thing he mocks.

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Under Leaves (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam, iTunes App Store

A long while ago, I stated that games for younger children don’t get a fair rap, critically speaking. They’re considered lesser by virtue of… Being kid’s games. Edutainment, especially, is viewed under this lens. So you can imagine my pleasure when I was approached to take a look at Under Leaves, a hidden object game aimed at young children, and the parents thereof.

A clean, simple UI allows for easy access to levels holding a variety of animals living in the world today.

Aesthetically, Under Leaves is colourful and good looking, with hand painted assets that are fairly accurate to their subject matter, which is a variety of animals, the environs they live in, and a single food of each animal’s preference. The music is pleasant, and not overwhelming, and the sound effects are very well chosen. So, aesthetically, the game does pretty well, although I have raised the point that the game falls to a common flaw with some hidden object games (Not taking into account colourblindness in some of the level designs, most notably for me, the oceanic levels.)

The game can, by an adult, be played relatively quickly. In less than an hour, I had discovered many things, and each time I’d found and clicked all of the chosen food item (From nuts to clams to earthworms), I was rewarded with an animation, and a Steam achievement named after the Genus or genera of each animal in question (Such as Chamaeleo for, funnily enough, an African Chameleon – Chamaleo Africanus.) It helped that the help system consists of solving a 3×3 sliding block puzzle with the game’s title card as the image, although another minor criticism is that, on the larger areas, the help circle moves a little quick to catch up to if, say, an object is the other side of the levels.

In later levels, this hint circle can move at quite a clip if something’s across the area.

So, honestly, I somewhat like this as an edutainment game. It shows animals, not just in isolation, but sharing an expanding ecosystem in areas, the achievements are a subtle nod to things parents and children can look up together, and it’s moderately entertaining for me, a jaded thirty something grumpus wearing a reviewer mask. It has replay value (In fact, one can reset the game’s progress quite easily)and isn’t too long to completely go through. Win all round.

Did I mention how gorgeous the illustrations were? I think I did, but it bears repeating.

The Mad Welshman loves animals. Such variety! So many interesting things they do to live! So many things that can be put in tanks for do-gooders to fall into!

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