Monthly Column – March 2019 Top 4 Curiosities
It’s springtime. The days are longer, the sun is shining, and the flowers are blooming.
But you’re not in the mood for that stuff, are you? No, you want something moody…something dark…something a bit evil.
(And sadly, you played your way through all of IGR’s Halloween recommendations months ago.)
Well, you’re in luck, because that’s what I’m in the mood for, too, and April was so rich in poetic, over-the-top goth indie games that I couldn’t even limit my curation of curiosities to the usual three.
Instead, for the fourth month – and the four winds, the four alchemical elements, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse – I bring you four of the April’s best gothic horror indie games.
Pray that the gods haven’t forgotten you, and read on…
Beyond the Veil
by Incubator Creations
At first glance, Beyond the Veil seems a bit like Dark Souls by way of Zenzizenzic: an abstract top-down twin-stick shooter viewed from a great height and incorporating loads of moodily-named places and things – things which you must of course kill.
Get more than a few minutes into it, and it feels a lot more like a highly stylized arcade retelling of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, with perhaps a hint of the unremitting bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road thrown in for good measure. Your main character, a wandering gunslinger haunted by a past he can’t remember, explores a dead apocalyptic landscape in a quest to bring back the gods that abandoned the world.
Beyond the Veil’s comparatively simple mechanics – enhanced by very light RPG and puzzle elements – are solid enough to keep you grinding, but it’s lone developer Sam West’s mastery of mood that makes Beyond the Veil so captivating.
Its mostly monochromatic color scheme and simplistic, stylized graphics – jagged quadrangles and occult symbols abound – are brought to life by far more literal-minded sound design. Gunshots, in particular, have an almost physical impact (no pun intended), and the soundtrack’s blend of moaning orchestration and lonely guitar melody provides an ideal backdrop.
West’s descriptive between-level text is perfect, as well, with just enough description to inspire the imagination to fill in missing details and more than enough melancholy to convey the game’s themes of social, emotional and environmental catastrophe.
by Hibernian Workshop
Once again, it’s hard to avoid the Dark Souls comparisons, but in the case of Dark Devotion, it’s reimagined as a side-scroller.
Salt and Sanctuary did something similar in 2016, but where that was fast-paced and even a bit cartoonish, Dark Devotion is plodding and oppressive in all the best ways. Your protagonist can’t even jump, which makes every choice during dungeon exploration all the more crucial.
If you’re not a hardcore action gamer, the difficulty here could be a bit of a turn-off, but it’s worth it for the game’s atmosphere, which is gothic in every sense of the word, from crumbling Templar dungeons, bloodied altars and scenes of Medieval torture to an overwrought moodiness in its art style that reminded me of Beksinksi-inspired puzzle game Tormentum: Dark Sorrow.
From its pixel art and lighting effects to its delightfully dreary soundtrack, French studio Hibernian Workshop has created something of a masterpiece in old-school game design.
If only they’d also included adjustable difficulty modes! Then again, as the Templar inquisitors would probably tell us, we sinners deserve our punishment.
by Shotgun with Glitters
A bit like The Omen – or old-school Alone in the Dark – by way of Minecraft, this is a classic point-and-click adventure with combat elements done in that now-familiar voxel art style.
Honestly, the fighting parts are clumsy, and some of the puzzles are head-scratchers, but The Padre makes up for it with self-aware charm.
The voxel art is surprisingly effective, and it’s nice to see the style used to evoke something more like a ‘70s horror film than the usual blocky forests-and-meadows montages, but the best part of this game by far is the titular Padre himself: a demon-hunting, wise-cracking priest who growls like a hung-over Jason Statham.
Courier of the Crypts
by Emberheart Games
Playing a bit like the dungeon parts in The Legend of Zelda (the original) but with more of an emphasis on environmental puzzles than combat, Courier of the Crypts puts you in the shoes of a literal child trapped in an underground warren of tombs and catacombs, protected by traps, infested with rats and spiders, and probably haunted by g-g-g-ghosts!
Emphasizing your character’s vulnerability by providing you with nothing more than a torch and the occasional throwing rock for protection, the fairy tale-inspired – but spooky – setting and youthful protagonist belie the difficult, carefully crafted levels.
What games are giving you an unseasonal chill this spring? Let us know in the comments.