Monthly Column – November 2019 Top 3 Curiosities
November featured a variety of games that mostly flew under the radar, from puzzles to space shooters to board games about eldritch abominations. A few of my favorites:
by Dastardly Digital
Cthulhu’s Catharsis is Risk, more or less, but instead playing as world powers, you’re playing as the alien gods/monsters from H.P. Lovecraft.
That puts it so obviously within my wheelhouse I’m not even sure what else to add.
There are different monster units to choose, different buildings to erect, a couple of different currencies – sacrificial cultists and slaughtered civilians – to spend, plus random events and mutations that can be added to your unholy minions.
Dastardly Digital does it all with a very self-consciously amateur and lighthearted approach, with scrawled, cartoonish graphics and a silly voice-acted tutorial. It feels like the digital equivalent of those old, cheaply produced Steve Jackson Games tabletop things like Car Wars where you had to cut the game pieces off of a thin paper sheet.
The interface is also sort of a mess, with layers of text piled awkwardly on top of each other, often making things a mess to read, but who cares?
It’s like Risk but with Cthulhu and Dagon and Yog-Sothoth and ghasts and shoggoths and stuff, and I’m going to complain about text placement? Come on.
Cthulhu’s Catharsis might not be perfect, but it’s perfect.
by Rostislav Pogosian
I’m not usually one for box-pushing puzzles in the Sokoban vein; they usually end up being either tedious or over-complicated and frustrating.
Imbroglio – not to be confused for the award-winning 2016 iOS game of the same name – does have occasional frustrating moments but bypasses the genre’s typical misery by being short and to the point.
Instead of hundreds of nearly identical levels, it restricts itself to a few dozen puzzles, and interspersed between the longer and more complex arrangements of cubes to be pushed and pulled are smaller – and frankly stranger – little snippets.
A good deal of the game’s charm comes from its moody atmosphere and approach to design; your box-pushing protagonist is a paper-thin silhouette in a world of sparse forests and lonely castles, all set to an understated electronic ambient soundtrack and accompanied by falling leaves and rain.
Its evocative autumnal tranquility makes even the most aggravating box puzzle moments feel like quiet beauty instead of stressful inertia.
by Narfox LLC
Masteroid reminds me of one of my all-time favorite indie space games, Transcendence, in the way it boils down all the feelings of expansiveness from games like the X and Elite series into a simple top-down interface.
At first glance, you might mistake it for an Asteroids clone with prettier backgrounds, but Masteroid is a calmer, slower-paced affair. Like the long-running series of games mentioned above, players have the freedom to make their fortune through bounty-hunting or more sedate jobs like asteroid mining and transportation.
It’s also relaxing rather than tense, not only because of its mellow music and stunning intergalactic vistas, but also because it’s got a generally low difficulty curve; you don’t even need to worry about dodging asteroids while you’re mining them, and ships generally won’t shoot at you unless you shoot them first.
I like a high-tension, pulse-pounding laser battle as much as the next person who spent time in arcades during the ‘80s, but Masteroid is for those other times when I’m feeling quiet and contemplative (but still in the headspace to blow up some space rocks).
On top of those, there were also a couple new free releases that are more than worth the price:
A monochrome platforming game about a little owl in a strange, seemingly abandoned fantasy world, Down Ward is a beautiful and delicate little thing.
While the various controls were a bit tough to get used to at first, especially on the keyboard – our little owl can jump, high jump, flap and glide from a running start, all using different combinations of the same five keys – the poetic, melancholy vibe, smooth animations and evocative trip-hop score more than make up for any clumsy landings.
Like the similarly named Downwell, you can choose your own color palette, but the cool mint greens and whites of the default scheme perfectly capture the game’s sense of lonely mysticism.
by Michael Rfdshir
Wurroom combines handmade stop-frame clay animation with psychedelic and grotesque surrealism.
A bit like an early Amanita Design game, the “mechanics” as such boil down to figuring out which bulbous protuberances to click – and sometimes in which order – but Serge Bulat’s subtle percussion score and the animated art are the reasons to play.
Watching me play over my shoulder, my partner described this as “Gumby on the Moon on acid,” and to me, it was like Salvador Dali’s most unsettling work rendered in oozing ceramic instead of oil paint. Either way, an odd but memorable 10-minute experience.
Did you play any interesting new indies that flew under the radar this month?