Source: Review Copy Price: £3.99 (£3.99 artbook) Where To Get It: Steam
On the one hand, I love my Good Queer Shit, this is well known. I like gijinkas (human anthropomorphisations of various stuff), and I like games that use engines that aren’t really built for the game. But…
…This game tries way too hard. And the result is a little painful.
Okay, maybe more than a little, this thing… I think I heard ten memes in the space of five minutes, and my brain (and teeth) ache a little.
So… Anyway, the game. It’s a visual novel made in Ren’py, simple choices, a choice of sea life gals to smooch on Valentine’s Day, short, to the point… And it has top down walking in it. Top down walking that scrolls somewhat jankily, and… Feels superfluous, honestly. There are set situations you’re faced with, things only opening up (a little) when you get to a certain point, so… Why not go with a more traditional structure, choosing where to go, etcetera?
Honestly, that’s mostly dissatisfaction with the jank of the top-down, majority segment of the game. Aesthetically, it be pixels, with hand drawn character art for the conversations, so I’m not complaining about the aesthetics.
The writing, on the other hand… Ohhh boy. See, I was down with “It’s time to pick up women. [pause] Respectfully.” But then, shortly after?… Stans, Stands, Darude’s Sandstorm, lots of cheesy lines… It grated. It grated a whole lot, and the humour seemed forced. I didn’t really feel any attraction to anyone (much less the protag), and…
As such, I… Really can’t recommend this, unless you’re a masochist, or are as internet poisoned as the two jackass boys who seem to be the nominal antagonists of the story. I like my Good Queer Shit, but this… This ain’t it.
The Mad Welshman would like to be, under the sea, in a cute dolphingirl’s parlour, in a cave… Alas…
Source: Review Copy Price: £15.99 (Game plus soundtrack £23.18, Soundtrack £7.19) Where To Get It: Steam
My word, this one is a delight. I mean, I’ve heard some… Interesting things about the developers, nothing you could repeat, mind you, but…
I am joking, I’ve heard nothing. But that’s the most fitting intro I could think of for a game set just before La Revolution, in which scheming is rife, including yours. Who shall you side with, who shall you snub, and what shall you wear, while avoiding poverty because your fiancee ran off to God knows where before you even arrived?
In any case, this is a life simulation game, in which you’re balancing various stats (it’s a relatively simple one, so it’s favour with factions and characters, money, peril, and exhaustion) while engaging in social situations in a visual novel style format. Read the text, enjoy the expressions, pick the most suitable path for you, and see what ending results (or, you know, aim for a specific one)
At the time of the review, I was, essentially, already on my way to revenge, revolution, and a lesbian romance with an older widow. Perfect path for me, honestly, I love me Dat Good Queer Shit, I dislike the Bourgeoisie, and the noblewoman who snubs you at the beginning of the game is a hateful bitch. I could have curried favour with another lady (a painter for the Queen), some men, the military, the church, but… Naaahhhhh. So, what do I like and dislike about the game, then, now I’ve mentioned this?
Aesthetically, I love it. Expressive characters, solid writing, clear UX, music that fits both the period and the mood, good tooltips… My only bitch with the UX is that when something is grayed out, this is the time to hit Escape to go back, but it does not, in fact, inform you of this. Oh, and the windowed mode going a bit fucky from time to time. But, overall, it pleases me, very good.
Now, the core gameplay loop and the writing? Oh. God. Yes. The gameplay is simple in all its elements. When you’re not at a party, you get one thing to do a day, like buying a new dress, selling or disseminating that Hot Gossip, engaging in encounters, trysts, furthering one of the stories, some days gives you invitations to parties, where declining hurts your credibility (remember, this is also the word for “Someone believing you”), and accepting sets a day aside for attending said party. When you do, you get two social encounters, picked from a pool. Do well, get nice things, maybe some bad things, like Peril (leading, obviously, to bad things. Do poorly, get more of the latter, and expect your reputation to plummet.
It’s easy to navigate, which leaves… The writing. The characters are, as mentioned, expressive visually, and it’s the same in terms of writing. Madame Honorade Gazelle (alas, a Bourgeoisie… Maybe I can persuade her otherwise), for example, is a firebrand, teetotal, but passionate, and caring not for your silly conventions. Camille, your maid… Well, I screenshotted one of her exchanges above, she’s most definitely not law abiding when she needs (or wants) to be, and a cheerful and helpful servant. Alas, not romanceable. Maybe that could be in a patch, or a DLC? After all, out of the romance options, only two are gay (out of six), and we could do with a bigger scandal, couldn’t we?
In any case, to folks who like lifesims, visual novels, and intrigue with a historical touch, this is a very good pick. I’m having a lot of fun, and I expect to have more.
Give us Camille if you want to live, developers. The villains and villainesses demand Camille. (We won’t really hurt you. Camile pweaaaasee?)
Source: Review Copy Price: £15.49 (It’s sort of a season pass deal, episode 1 is £4.79, episode 2 is £5.19) Where to Get It: Steam
Content Warnings (taken from the official site) Realistic Gore; death; dead, dying and injured animals; children in peril; child death; claustrophobia; emetophobia/vomiting; disturbing imagery and situations
Mystery horror. It’s a difficult thing to write, honestly. You’ve got to get the right balance between a sense of normality and… Something being off, before that something decides to come knocking.
And so, Scarlet Hollow begins in a very simple way, well known to horror fans: An estranged family member, going to the family’s run down, decrepit house in a run-down, slowly dying town for their aunt’s funeral.
And it doesn’t fuck around with the “something off”, either. The guy on the bus is loud on the way there, and subtly unstable. The cat (if you can talk to animals, more on that in a sec) is a proud French asshole. There’s a forbidden wing, a seriously tired and frumpy cousin, and yes, you are very much a stranger in a strange land.
And this is before things even kick off.
So, yes, Scarlet Hollow is a visual novel, episodic, and only episodes 1 and 2 are out right now. But buy it once, and when the rest of the episodes come out, bam, they’re yours! And it’s… A really cool experience, gently unsettling until it decides to go all out, lowering and spiking the tension well… And aesthetically, it’s very on point.
Inks abound, crosshatching, all that good pen drawing shit I know and love, and solid colour choices, muted when it needs to be, loud when it needs to be. Musically, it’s good, accessibility wise, it’s good, and it’s got… A lot of choice. Just to start off with, pronouns (YESSSS) and two special traits. For my first go through, I picked talking to animals and book smarts, and… Wow, I spent a lot of the first ep sounding like a pompous grad student, while also being dissed by Frou-Frou for butchering their native language. Ehehehe. So… Yeah, that, combined with hidden meters, meant I got a fair bit of choice paralysis, not helped by…
…Curse you, Black Tabby Games… You know about scroll-wheeling in Ren’py, and you cockblocked me. Then I shall have to save a heckuva lot…
Anyway, yes, queer horror, romance options, complicated relationships… If you like a visual novel with a lot going on, then Scarlet Hollow is really good. Oh, and obviously, if any of the content warnings are triggers for you, stay away, and if they aren’t, keep an eye on the CW page for further warnings that may or may not occur.
No, dating the pug to get adorable doggy “kisses” is not an option. Sorry, go for Purrfect Date or Hatoful Boyfriend for that, and apologies.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £1.69 Where To Get It: Steam
Bards have quite the reputation in tabletop circles. They can and will romance anything, or at least try to, whether it’s advisable or not. And, due to their natural charm, this will often work. It gets them into trouble, sometimes fatal, as much as it provides rewards.
So, in essence, they’re human beings who aren’t aromantic.
Okay, okay, there’s more qualifiers and nuance than that, but yes, Bard Harder is simultaneously about one of the more out there examples of bardery (A lich, to be precise), and of their player’s struggle to ask the DM they like on a date.
It’s cute, it’s silly, and, overall, it’s a story about the importance of knowing the target of your affections, listening to them, and clearly communicating with them. It’s a visual novel in which most of the bad ends are due, simply, to not using the information you gather.
I’ll freely admit I didn’t gather all the endings. I just wanted the one. But it was the main one, and it was sweet. Aesthetically, it’s pretty nice, UX is pretty standard for a Ren’py work, but the music and visuals appeal, and the writing… I have to admit, I agree with the people who simultaneously spoiler and screenshot said lich screaming “WHY ARE YOU SO CUTE?!?”
If you want a short, appealing visual novel, this one’s a pretty pleasant one, although I would drop the content warning of “Kissing a skeleton.” Even I’m not sure how that one works.