Absorbed is a fast paced, side-scrolling, level based platformer in which you have a gun which can suck in, and then shoot out, just about anything. You’re likely to be reminded of the gravity gun from Half-Life 2, and that could have been an inspiration but the Absorbed gun, like the game that it’s in, operates much faster.

Actually, I’m playing through the developer’s other games on Kongregate now and speed seems to be emphasized in most of them – very quick and short levels. It’s nice. It’s satisfying to blow through ten levels in five minutes, especially when each one involves lots of fast things happening quickly. Feels like you’re really getting things done.

absorbedControl in Absorbed is responsive, as it needs to be, with a couple of caveats: You can’t shoot if there isn’t room for the projectile to appear in front of you, in other words there needs to be some space between you and your target. This will get you killed at least once. A second thing is that levels are all set up on a grid, everything is super linear, except for your projectiles – they are effected by gravity and they curve as they travel. But not very much. They almost shoot in a straight line, and just about every design element suggests that straight lines are the good and proper way for things to move, but your projectiles don’t quite do that. It’s a minor thing but it makes aiming difficult in some cases. I think it’s an interesting point how much the visual design can impact your expectation of movement.

Neither of these are deal breakers. On the positive side of things, there’s not a lot of bullshit here – almost no backtracking to re-use old projectiles, and neither do you have to be very conservative with what you shoot. This, and the fact that you can bypass a lot of puzzles by abusing your own fragile body, makes for a pretty easy game, and a quick run through, but as I said: speed seems to be a theme with this developer and that’s an asset. Going back and earning all the stars offers some additional challenge if you find it too easy the first time. (You earn stars by avoiding death, none of that annoying collection business.)

The developer’s name is Danil Zhuravlev. Like I said, I’m playing what I can find of his now and some of his games are more original than others, but they all show some care put into them. I don’t know why I haven’t heard of this guy before.

Relevant links: fansite, download

cave storyBy this point Cave Story isn’t exactly obscure. It’s the game that everyone points to when they talk about how great indie games can be, and they’re not wrong. I can’t offer any new enthusiasm for this title, but I’m going to post it here for the sake of completeness. Maybe there’s someone out there somewhere who never pays any attention to anything, but is for some reason one of the two people who comes to this site. It’s possible. If you are that person, you should play Cave Story.

In short: it’s a sidescrolling exploratory platformer which does the exploration part very well, the action part pretty well, and the story part… is just very well presented. Plot-wise it isn’t anything remarkable, but it puts you in an environment on a small scale, with a limited number of characters, and allows you to grow attached to the people and the place that you’re in before it starts to tear that down.

The original game was made by a single person, Daisuke Amaya, over a five year period and was released in 2004. For those of you who can read Japanese, that’s available here. For everyone else the best resource is likely cavestory.org – a fan site with loads of information in English as well as an extensive list of downloads, with the game available in many languages and for many platforms.

Attack on Titan TVI posted Rick and Morty’s Rushed Licensed Adventure recently and while on the subject of games based on TV shows we might as well talk about Attack on Titan. Like Rick and Morty I highly recommend the show, though it’s a completely different style and subject. A post-apocalyptic fantasy, where the world is overrun by human-devouring giants and the remnants of humanity are left living in a small area behind enormous walls. It’s extremely violent, but the attention-grabbing part is its high degree of unpredictability – we’ve seen a great deal of media involving humans on their last legs, but it’s the feeling that any horrible thing could happen to any person at any time which really conveys a sense of danger.

There’s a good explanation for the odd title of the show here, but it does contain some spoilers. The short answer is that “Attack on Titan” was the imperfect-English subtitle for the original Japanese comic, the full title being: “Shingeki no Kyojin: Attack on Titan.” Even though it doesn’t make much grammatical sense, they decided to keep it for the English version.

All right, so that’s all well and good for the show but how does this translate into a video game? Well there are a couple visual novels offered as pack-ins with the blu-ray releases of the show, but only one full-fledged licensed action game so far, released for the 3DS. As with most licensed games the answer is: poorly. It translates poorly, reviews of the the 3DS game have been almost universally negative. The dull and overly simplified combat being a common complaint among the reviewers.

Now, if you’ve seen the show this should be a disappointment and possibly a little confusing: combat in Attack on Titan is anything but simple. The characters move around by means of high powered grappling hook mechanisms that they wear around their waists and attacking the giants means getting up very close and cutting out a portion of their necks using swords. It’s fast and acrobatic and dangerous and movement involves coordinating many things at once. This has all the components of a thrilling and very challenging game and the idea that the developers would dumb that down to the point where movement is a couple of button presses and attacking just means a rudimentary quick time event… It’s disappointing.

Disappointing, but probably shouldn’t come as a surprise: the whole point of a licensed game is to cash in on audience enthusiasm. The developer pays a lot of money for that license and needs to appeal to the broadest audience possible, that means avoiding a complicated and difficult movement system in favor of something more accessible.

attack on titan tribute gameSo what happens if you start with the same idea but the game isn’t made by someone who needs to make a return on the license? Say, by a fan? Just doing it because they like the show? You get the Attack on Titan Tribute Game. It’s bare-bones, graphically simple, but it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the source material: moving and fighting in AoT Tribute Game is damn hard and it’s a skill which you must develop as you play. Mastering something like this is both a chore and very rewarding, I am nowhere close but I’ve had little moments where it’s come together for me – little flashes where I’m not thinking about the controls and am instead soaring from building to building, flying around corners and working my way behind the horrifying giants. It’s a wonderful feeling.

One thing that’s missing and which I would like to see, but which might be difficult to implement: actual physics-relevant wires. As it is, the wires which pull you along are just graphical dressing – they clip through buildings and they can’t bend or otherwise be used to whip around the aforementioned corners. It’s a significant mechanic in the show, but I can see why it hasn’t been implemented here. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

If you’ve watched Attack on Titan and you’ve said to yourself, “Holy crap, that’s awesome. I wish I had grappling hooks like that, and also a city which didn’t mind that I was constantly poking holes in its buildings.” Well this is as close as you’re going to get.

I don’t like to be too negative, but Braid pissed me off. It was a decent enough puzzle platformer, using some time-based mechanics which were new then, but in addition to that it was a media darling. Every gaming site was going on and on about this thing, and a lot of their attention was spent on the… “plot.” And there’s reason for that, the game really pushed it – hinting at something profound, keeping you going to the end with the expectation of some insightful revelation. And when you reached the end what you got was really just more hints. It never came together and actually said anything, it just made the suggestion over and over again that there was something meaningful there beneath the surface. After you finished the game you’d spend a little while thinking to yourself that you weren’t getting it, that you just need to to find that thread – the thing which brings together a bunch of jumbled ideas and phrases into something insightful or at least cohesive… There’s no thread. Fucking Braid.

There are plenty of bad games and there are plenty of pretentious games (which are bad), but they usually don’t get the kind of attention that Braid got. That was the big thing, it felt like betrayal in a way. The game made you feel dumb for not understanding an idea that wasn’t there, but you were sure there must have been something there… the critics wouldn’t be fawning all over this if it was just about dicking you around… right?

one step backWell they did and it made lots of money, so now that’s a thing: puzzle platformers with levels tied together by deep thoughts. Fortunately for us, most other developers haven’t latched on to the idea that deep thoughts become even deeper when they don’t make any sense. As a result, despite my snark, some of these are actually pretty decent. I don’t know if Braid was the direct inspiration for One Step Back, there are plenty of similar games, but I am confident that somewhere down the line Braid was influential.

All right, this is too much talking for such a short game. One Step Back is a decent little platformer that’s a little too moody for its own good, but the time-clone mechanic is fun and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The message isn’t a bad one, at least it makes sense, it’s just a little out of place.