A while ago, I wrote an article about the Perth Global Game Jam event, and my experiences participating as a chiptune provider. The feedback I got from it was mostly positive, but a common irk with most readers was that I didn’t actually talk about any of the games with any particularity (including some of the devs from the event). I skimmed over a couple names that I felt stood out, yet didn’t delve into what they were, how they played, or the impression they left on me. It may be almost a month late, but this article is here to rectify that!
The only game at the event to elicit a, “Wait, what!?” response from me, Dwarf Squad is a special machination of teamwork and chaos. The game is a top-down puzzle platformer where each of the four dwarves on the screen are controlled by a different section of the keyboard or controller. If the dwarves bump into each other too hard, then the controls hard-switch between each section, perhaps swapping horizontal controls from the analog stick to the D-pad and vice versa. On your own, this rarely happens, but when you’re playing with one person controlling each dwarf… Hoo boy.
The design itself is hilariously brilliant, but the gameplay is just as solid. The controls are just slippery enough to promote dumb errors but not create them, the puzzles require careful teamwork from all members, and berating your friends for bumping you when sitting right next to them is so very, very satisfying. The comical presentation of the game perfectly fits in with the inevitably idiotic mistakes you and your team mates make, and the epic silliness of the orchestral music is just as delightful. For a game constructed in 48 hours, it has the feel and polish of something far more developed.
Carry The Fire
Although I supplied music for it, bias has nothing to do with why Carry The Fire stood out to me. At first glance, the game is a simple 2D platformer with some very pretty art assets. What makes the game unique is that certain platforms will only appear when a specific hue of light shines from your fire-headed avatar. It’s a deceptively simple mechanic that, when timed with platforms that block your jump path, add a satisfying twist on the classic side-scroller. It’s as much a puzzle game as it is a strict plaformer, requiring the correct selection of light to pass by obstacles that would otherwise not exist.
While the controls were a bit rough, everything else in the demo was of an exceptional standard. The visuals convey a minimal, lonely, and almost bleak setting even though there’s no real backstory to latch onto. The design of the level showed off the potential of the idea despite being quite short, taking the simple concept of changing light and pushing it through a meat pulveriser of logical extremes. It reminded me of Thomas Was Alone with a more mystical tone, which is a very good thing indeed.
99 Problems (and blocks are all of them)
I struggle to find words that adequately describe 99 Problems, and yes, I’m perfectly aware of the irony that writer’s block is one of them. It’s a Portal clone because, you know, it’s an FPS where you solve puzzles with cubes, aka blocks, but… It’s blatantly and unashamedly politically incorrect. Preposterously and magnificently so. You can modify the properties of blocks, such as their size or behaviour, by applying psychological disorders onto them like anxiety (which makes them ‘jumpy’) or multiple personality disorder (which creates another identical cube).
It’s almost mocking presentation of mental illnesses just suits the way the game works, trivialising them into clever game mechanics effortlessly. The gameplay is simple enough, and while the environment isn’t screaming with detail, the voiceless text on the walls gives the game a quirk that’s both horrible and fantastic. As someone who suffered (and still occasionally runs out of rooms) from anxiety, I found the notion that a block could be as irrationally demented as me god damn effin’ hilarious.
Brought to you by ‘Stirfire and Friends’, Dandelion was an ambitious project: A story-driven first-person exploration game in a detective noir-esque setting seen through the eyes of two different characters. The final product was no where finished but absolutely nailed the tone they set out to achieve, sporting a lo-fi charm with hand-drawn 2D characters and cheesy jazz playing in the background. The gameplay itself was unremarkable, consisting of walking around before being stopped by someone with no real agency on the players’ part. While heavily carried by the aesthetics, I still wanted to see where the story would go given the setting’s potential. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love a good murder mystery?
While it was disappointing that the game did not see completion, the concept behind Clarity was good enough to warrant a shout out. The creator presented the game as a manifest of his experiences on anti-depressants and their effects on his day to day activities. Playing as a depressed individual, you would be given a finite supply of meds to achieve moments of clarity and successfully complete various tasks around the house. It reeked of a Gone Home mentality and looked awesome, but was never completed because so much time was ‘spent on the lighting effects’. Admittedly, those lighting effects kicked ass.
Check out all the games: http://globalgamejam.org/2014/jam-sites/lets-make-games-ggj-perth/games