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Top 5 Best Indie Games of the Month – January 2017

Nefarious. This is a tricky game to talk about. It does so much to make you like it, but at the same time, can be dispiriting. Let’s break it down. The game has this premise where you play the villain of a 16-bit era platformer. It’s no cheap marketing trick either. Instead, it’s a theme explored with great enthusiasm. The villain is Crow, the fella who kinda looks like Dr Robotnik dropped a few pounds and dressed up as Mega Man for Halloween.

Of course, he drives an airship, where he plops all the princesses he kidnaps. They provide great fodder for some convos that are filled with meta jokes and other hilarity. This is the game at its best; when it pushes the novelty of its premise to the edge. Going off script, like taking part in a TV dating show or visiting the world villain museum is ridiculous fun. You want to delve further into Nefarious’ world, and are often rewarded with the eccentric, clever laughs and a surprisingly robust character story. When Nefarious is not making you chortle, it’s pacing you through its mostly forgetful levels.

Hit boxes are sometimes off, landing is slippery, sound cues are missing, and response times are sluggish. Not to mention, enemies are plain dumb. It’s not dysfunctional by any stretch, and some inventive mechanics do provide some real bright spots, but the overall scrappiness of Nefarious’ platforming never escapes your consciousness. It’s disappointing more than annoying. With so much to like, there’s a chunk of unrealised potential left on the table. Nefarious is a fun game, just not a great platformer. A sharpening of the gameplay would surely rocket it to greater heights. Hive Jump channels the aesthetic of the early Metroid titles. You can tell it from first glance. The bumpy terrain that could’ve been stripped from a monster’s bowel lining, the helmeted protagonists, the saturated colours that pop from every angle – it’s clearly an attempt to mirror Metroid. Once we actually played it however, we found that our eyes had been lying. This is no metroidvania. The path ahead unfolds randomly, so exploring doesn’t include a lot of backtracking. Death is permanent or at least very close to permadeath – more on that in a second.

Point is, Hive Jump is more of a Spelunky twin stick shooter decorated with retro stylings. A backpack that serves as a personal, transportable respawn point, is Hive Jump’s unique spin on permadeath. The catch being that if the backpack is destroyed, so are your extra lives. Hive Jump is a blast to play in co-op, and easily when the game is most fun. Going solo is good for unlocking new loadouts but can get same old fast. There’s a lot of similar games on the market, but if you’re specifically looking for a roguelite with strong co-op, Hive Jump is a good punt. Adventure game Milkmaid of the Milky Way churns a ripping yarn out of its provincial Norwegian setting. Farm life can be charming. Just consider the recipes written as rhythmic poems or the tranquil ambience of the cow shed.

It is equally mundane though. After one day helping out dairy farmer Ruth, you get a peek at how repetitive and weary farm work can be. This provides great contrast to the sudden arrival of aliens. Here lies Milkmaid’s main intrigue; the clash of the mundane and the bizarre. It’s dramatic, world-opening and even funny. Gameplay is classic point and click; collecting and grabbing items to solve puzzles. It’s ok, but we recommend it for the journey. That, and all the art and sounds lovingly made by Milkmaid’s only developer Mattis Folkestad. You can find Milkmaid of the Milky Way on both mobile and PC. We have to think it’s one of the more sophisticated games you could play on your phone. For PC players, the 1 to 2 hour length may prove too short. Juxtaposing cute and bright characters with realistic and dim backgrounds, She Remembered Caterpillars has this rather surrealist look. It works – aesthetically and functionally, grabbing your attention and pointing it toward the crucial elements of the game’s puzzles. The vivid reds and blues highlight the little lemmings you need to direct. Colour also emphasises your obstacles – the gates and bridges.

The logic behind these elements is simple colour wheel theory. Appropriate for a game so artistically inspired. Here’s the run-down: little lemmings can only cross bridges of the same colour and be blocked by gates of the same colour. So, red lemmings can cross red bridges and are blocked by red gates.The colour wheel twist comes from merging your lemmings and giving them secondary colours like purple and orange.

This complicates the rules a little. As you probably know, purple is a combination of red and blue. As such, a purple lemming must follow the ruleset of both blue and red obstacles. It can cross both blue and red bridges, but is halted by both blue and red gates.The puzzle concepts of She Remembered Caterpillars appear simple, but are in fact more detailed. It’s just like it’s surrealist art that blends caricature with realism.

It seems like its identity can be easily pinned down, but the more you examine its backdrops and puzzle logic, the more complexities you find. This is truly a wonderful thing. Delving deeper to find something deeper is a stimulating experience. The same can be said of the story, which explores the sometimes irreconcilable contrasts in the cycle of life and death. She Remembered Caterpillars feels more finished than other games. All of its ideas seem to have been executed as intended, and the result is a fulfilling journey. Horror lives and thrives in the dark. Without clarity, reason abandons the mind, leaving it to guess wildly until fear brews. Shine a light on the dark however, and it turns out those fears were just constructs of our imagination. That’s kind of a simplification, but it sums up the challenge of every horror game – can it go beyond ‘scary’ and present something that is terrifying even in the light of day.

Detention does. The Taiwanese-made product is set in the 1960’s, as an oppressive martial law known as the “White Terror,” suffocates Taiwan. The fear of communism spreading from mainland China has led the military to imprison thousands of citizens on suspicion of dissidence. The government is fearful, the people are fearful, to its core, Taiwan is fearful. The supernatural horror you encounter within Detention is symptomatic of this fear. Abominable creatures that chase you in the shadows have not broken out of a lab or spawned because you reached a checkpoint. They’re manifestations of the nation’s paranoia and worry, and that is what makes Detention so profoundly chilling.

A lot of props should also go to the game’s design, with its lighting and ghostly art doing tremendously creative work to depict the uneasy atmosphere of White Terror Taiwan. The story that takes you through all this tension is equally impressive. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next time here on indieformer.

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