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Picking The Brains of Brain & Brain, The Indie Devs Behind ‘Burly Men at Sea’

Goomba Stomp got the opportunity to talk adventure and the gaming industry with Brooke and David Condolora, the married duo behind the acclaimed ‘Burly Men at Sea’.

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A little over a year ago, the quiet adventurers over at Brain&Brain released an interactive choose-your-adventure type story, Burly Men at Sea. The game is their second release since the well-received mobile platform title, Doggins, and thus Burly Men at Sea was met with a wave of praise and appreciation of the simpler, minimal things that make up the core of the game.

Behind the scenes, this indie dev team is made up of a married duo: David and Brooke Condolora. Each half of Beain&Brain split their specialized roles; Brooke serves as the resident graphic designer/illustrator, animator and folklore aficionado, while David deals with the more technical aspects of their projects, like programming and sound design.

I had the distinct opportunity of chatting with the team and asked them a few questions I had rattling in my own brain.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the team was interviewed separately with the same questions. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

David and Brooke Condolora, the team that makes up both halves of Brain&Brain

GoombaStomp (GS): To start off, what exactly was it that got you two started on Burly Men at Sea specifically? And the specific theme of the game?

DC (David Condolora): So, it had been a name that we’d kicked around, since before we were making games. We just thought it was a funny name. It lent itself to lots of visual images. And Brooke, when we were working on Doggins, just shortly after…did a little sketch, in a coffee shop, one day, of three bearded fishermen, and that was sort of the start of what the game was all about. It started out as name, we had some visual ideas. Brooke started rediscovering her love for Scandinavian folklore.

That’s how she started developing the story of what these three brothers encounter when they out to sea. Yeah, so it started from a name and snowballed from there.

BC: (Brooke Condolora): The name came from a joke that we’ve since forgotten, years before we were making games. But it stuck with us, and we knew it was too good not to use. It really set up its own story, and the Scandinavian setting and folklore influence were just a natural fit for three bearded fishermen on an adventure.

BC: (Brooke Condolora): The name came from a joke that we’ve since forgotten, years before we were making games. But it stuck with us, and we knew it was too good not to use. It really set up its own story, and the Scandinavian setting and folklore influence were just a natural fit for three bearded fishermen on an adventure.

Brooke, David, and their Doggins.

GS: Were there any other adventure video games, like The Secret of Monkey Island, that went into Burly Men as inspiration? Was there anything specific that led you to the game’s nautical themes?

BC: Since we already had the name, its nautical setting was a given. But we did draw influence from other sources besides folklore, like a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, and Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

As for the game’s point-and-click nature, I think it’s definitely a style of gameplay we’re drawn to, though we didn’t set out with that in mind. With Doggins, our goal was to make a very traditional point-and-click adventure, but we wanted to let Burly Men at Sea take shape in its own way, with the mechanics growing out of the story and setting. It’s very non-traditional in that sense, often somewhere nearer to a visual novel.

DC: We play a lot of adventure games, in fact, we just beat Thimbleweed Park last week. I feel like Doggins was more directly influenced by adventure games. With Burly Men, we wanted to take a little bit of a different approach. There’s really no puzzles in the game at all. It’s really more of an interactive storytelling experience. We like to think of the player as the storyteller, as they’re playing this game, telling the story that they wanna tell in every voyage.

You know, the biggest inspirations I think for Burly Men were Kentucky Route Zero, just because of its minimalism and its focus on writing and character. Brooke drew a lot of inspiration visually from the works of Saul Bass, as well Scandinavian illustrations. And even the fishing villages themselves the game was based on they have these colorful building like you see in the game, because of the cod oil that they’re using to make the paint. She just drew a lot from those sources.

Burly Men at Sea

GS: As you just said, your games are more like interactive storybook experiences, however for a lot of people “video game”, as a label, invokes only the idea of beating a high score or a level, shooting enemies, jumping over barrels etc. Do you think that kind of labeling perhaps inhibits how people view experiences like the ones you guys craft?

DC: Um…maybe. Maybe to probably more so quote unquote traditional gamers more so the newer casual audience. Maybe a little bit. You know, games have become a catchall term. In my mind at least, a game is just an interactive piece of media in some way. You’re right in that what we create are more interactive stories strictly than traditional gaming experiences, with lots of stats and numbers and levels and things like that. We just really like storytelling especially, that’s what we’re all about, but also interested in how games as an interactive medium can push storytelling forward with interactivity. I think that’s a nut that no-one has cracked yet. You know, we try in our own small way with Burly Men at Sea to give the player agency but at the same time be telling them a story even as they’re helping shape that story, in probably a bigger way than some other games.

The idea of a choose your own adventure game is nothing new, of course. But a lot of games present choice in a way that…has an effect on the player and maybe the characters in a small way, but it doesn’t have a big effect on the story as it’s unfolding. One of the things we tried to do specifically with Burly Men at Sea made it so that the choices you make really affect the plot in a way more than the characters. Even though the outcome is the same every time you play it, it’s really about that middle chunk that you’re affecting every time.

BC: I think that sort of narrow definition can prevent people from letting an experience be enjoyable for what it is. It’s something we’ve definitely gotten criticism for, on certain storefronts. To be honest, though, it doesn’t really matter to me whether what we make is called a game. There’s a broad field right now, where devs are making all sorts of interactive experiences, and maybe “game” doesn’t fit anymore, or maybe it does. That doesn’t need to affect the player’s experience.

But I do think labels are useful for categorizing, for making a choice about what to purchase. Setting expectations is important, and if players feel cheated, they get upset. The trouble is that right now there isn’t a category where expectations won’t be upset.

GS: The term “quiet little adventure” seems to almost be Brain&Brian’s motto, having used it to describe both Burly Men and Doggins. It’s fitting but how did that notion come to manifest your works?

DC: In a way, we feel like that term “quiet adventure” describes our lives. Adventure is often seen as a very grand notion; backpacking the entire Pacific Crest Trail, or traveling the world, and things that seem out of reach for most people. But, we believe that everyone has adventure within reach in some fashion. Maybe not quite so grand, but sometimes those are the best kinds; the “quiet adventures” that are just you going out into nature nearby or trying something new or different.

That’s something we try to inject a little of into our lives all the time. And we hope that our games kind of have that same spirit. They’re not necessarily epic adventures. They’re smaller, a little more intimate, a little more whimsical, and we think that’s something we all need every day.

A physical version of a story from ‘Burly Men at Sea’

GS: Getting into books, one thing I find really interesting, is the physical aspect of each possible story within Burly Men at Sea. By using a code given after every ending, players can actually get a hardbound version of their specific story, illustrations and all. How did this idea form?

BC: The idea came up pretty early in development, once we decided the game would have a branching story. We had something similar in mind for a different project, one we’re actually working on now, but the hardcover storybook format is unique to Burly Men at Sea. Its folktale influence and visuals just made that a perfect fit. What probably planted the idea in our heads is Cardboard Computer’s “The Entertainment,” one of their Kentucky Route Zero interludes. You can actually order a paperback of the play itself, which is sitting on our bookshelf right now. We love that sort of crossover between worlds.

DC: We love the idea of taking pieces of game-world and bringing them in the real world[..]In [Doggins], there’s an “un-invitation” that you get in the very beginning of the game and it’s this card. We actually made those specific cards and gave them out at festivals. And we thought with Burly Men at Sea, what better way to cap your adventure…what better way to show that you were the storyteller than by allowing you to get a book version of this story you told.

So, you know, it was a lot of work. Brooke actually re-created, and made, all new art for the books. It’s like we took elements slapped them together. Her idea was that the book would be designed in such a way that it would feel at home inside the game world. So, the art-style is even a little bit more simplistic and minimal than the game itself. And new text. Because there’s so many possibilities of ways to play the game, we had to make so many different books. It was a real challenge but we feel like it was sort of the capstone of this whole idea of you as a storyteller, and we also just love bringing the virtual into the real.

GS: It’s something I don’t think I’ve seen done before. It completes the whole idea of your personal story, becoming something you can actually physically have. And there’s always value in something you can physically grab.

DC: Yeah, we certainly think so. Especially since more and more is becoming things that you can’t. Everything is becoming more and more vaporous.

‘Doggins’

GS: Regarding Doggins, as this was your guys’ first released game, how do you think working on it and the reaction to it has informed your newer projects since?

DC: I think, when we were making Doggins, everything was born out of naivete and just…what made us laugh, or what we loved, and that was really, really fun. I think probably the biggest lesson we learned from Doggins were primarily business lessons. You know, about platforms and how to release and all that kind of stuff. I try to take all of that going forward. We also learned a little bit about how to really make a satisfying story. One of the things that people had a little bit of issue with, with Doggins, was that the length, you know, it’s not terribly long. And that’s OK. But we feel like that would have been less of an issue for some people if it had been a little more satisfying, coming full circle at the very end of the game. So, we try to take that lesson forward. That is informing what we are doing with Burly Men at Sea and even now, just making an experience that’s satisfying in that. Not necessarily going for something longer or shorter. Anything, just trying to let the game be what it should be. But, at the same time, keeping an eye toward a satisfying experience for the player.

BC: Doggins taught us a lot about how our process could be improved, but more importantly, it helped us find our voice. There’s this terrifying feeling at the start of a new project that it could be anything, and so much freedom makes it hard to start. But after spending two years on Doggins, we had a clearer idea of who we were as a team and what sorts of things we wanted to create.

GS: I think the issue of length is a big point of contention with a lot of people who play video games. I’ve always found that as a very interesting topic because for me, it doesn’t matter, the value of the thing is what it is. Doesn’t matter how long or short it is. But, that definitely seems to be a difficult balance when you’re selling a game, especially when it comes to monetary value.

DC: Yes! It is. And it’s a funny thing because it’s not like people get 30% off when they go see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk because it’s only an hour and a half. It’s a weird thing. Or novels aren’t priced based on their length. It’s a very game-specific thing. But what we (Brain&Brain) don’t want to do is make decisions about the story we’re telling just so that we can make it long enough to hit a certain price point, or short enough so we can price it lower for mobile market or whatever. We really just wanna let the story dictate what it should be. And that’s a little bit hard because, like you said, it’s a contentious issue for some gamers and it might make it more difficult to price it at a certain level that you might want to. For us, it’s more important to maintain the integrity of the game itself.

BC: It seems like the majority of players are now familiar enough with indie games to understand that the scope of a AAA game isn’t reasonable for a small team, but they do expect a satisfying experience (and reasonably so). That’s really where the challenge lies, especially for a two-person team. We can only create so much content, so we have to make that short experience as satisfying as possible. But really, I think it’s all about setting expectations. No one complains when they pick up a book of short stories and discover that the stories are short. They complain when they thought they’d picked up a novel. We tried to do a better job of this with Burly Men at Sea, especially after hearing “too short” so many times in Doggins reviews. A single playthrough is short, and since we couldn’t be sure players would go back to try other branches, it was risky. Of course, we could’ve played it safe by combining all the middle branches into a single 3 to 4 hour adventure, but that wasn’t the story we wanted to tell.

GS: How does the real Oliver Doggins feel about all of this? Has he stayed humble?

BC: Ha! I’m not sure he’s ever been much of a humble dog, so he fully supports anything that leads to extra attention. I never could talk David into bringing him to festivals, though…

DC: [laughs] …I think he had a great time because when we were making Burly Men at Sea, we were on the road for eighteen months. We criss-crossed all of North America and he had a front-row seat of the car and got to see everywhere we were going, and went on hikes and had a great time. So, I think he’s been pretty happy about it all.

GS: That’s good!

‘Burly Men at Sea’

GS: Wrapping up, what has been your favorite or most rewarding moment in the creation and then release of either Burly Men or Doggins?

BC: There have been a lot of rewarding moments, but lately, it’s been most encouraging to hear from players who turn to our games to counter unhappiness or stress. We want to make games that can do that—not as escapism, but as a celebration of what is good. That seems more important now than ever.

DC: Oh boy, that’s a good question. [long pause] OK, so, probably over the course of the whole journey, my favorite moment was just showing Doggins at a festival for the very first time[..]We were at SXSW, first time showing any game publicly, it was our first time at a game conference at all. And the interactions with the developers, who are still some of our best friends, and getting to see people play our game and really get it, and love it, and stay 30 or 45 minutes playing our game when they could be walking around enjoying the show…that was really pretty amazing. And, the coolest thing that happened when we released Burly Men at Sea was the morning that we shipped the game, we woke up and saw a review from TIME that gave it a five out of five, and it was the most well-written, glowing review. It was a great way to start release day, and that moment still sticks out. It was really exciting for us.

GS: Do you have that review framed by any chance?

DC: [laughs] We should. We should print it and frame it. We don’t but we should.

*****************************
Many thanks to David and Brooke for taking the time to talk to GS about their projects, lives, the gaming industry, and Oliver Doggins. Burly Men at Sea is due to set sail for the PS4/PS Vita on September 19th, and it might just inspire you to find an adventure that’s already within your reach.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Marty Allen

    August 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Really excited to see this great interview up on Goomba! ‘Burly Men’ is one of my favorite games of the last few years!

    • Maxwell N

      September 11, 2017 at 1:34 am

      I’m glad to see the game is getting wider recognition.

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Game Reviews

‘Super Mario 3D All-Stars’ Defines Three Incredible Generations

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the best bang for your buck compilation that the Super Mario Bros. franchise and the Nintendo Switch currently has to offer.

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars

Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review

Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: Platformer, Action | Platforms: Nintendo Switch | Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch


After nearly half a year of rumors, it was no surprise that Nintendo was going to jump up super high with another compilation title on their red plumber’s next special numbered anniversary. It’s absolutely undeniable to say that Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the best bang for your buck compilation that the Super Mario Bros. franchise and the Nintendo Switch currently have to offer. However, there are still a few pesky problems that persist through its leaking warp pipes. Nonetheless, what you are getting here is three updated masterclass retro classics that I probably don’t have to sell you on.

Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy are not only some of the most critically acclaimed titles on their respective systems, but they’re also among the most influential games ever made. Having all these platformers on one modern console handheld hybrid system sounds certainly promising, but how do they hold up in comparison to other games out on the market today? Is this really the best way to play these three classics? Have they been obliterated by time? Of course they all still hold up exceptionally well, but there are some upsetting answers to be found. Veterans and newcomers of Mario’s three-dimensional adventures will be rather pleased though by what is being offered in Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

3D All-Stars is a great best-hits package that can sometimes skimp out on features and upgrades, but it’s simply exceptional nonetheless.

Taking it all the way back to the past, 1996’s Super Mario 64 still holds a candle to many of today’s modern platformers as it flaunts its rebellious spirit through open environments and selective mission paths. The Nintendo 64’s shining star is just as good as you’ve heard or remember it to be. Despite some of its troublesome camera rotation and weird analog movement, the first three-dimensional Super Mario title still lives up to that high standard you would expect from a Nintendo release. Even after all these years, Super Mario 64 still comes out on top as the king of its generation.

There are plenty of cleaned-up trimmings, including new textures and user interface icons sprinkled here and there that benefit the original game’s noticeably aging areas throughout it’s latest rerelease. In comparison to its bundled successors, however, Super Mario 64 received the short end of the enhanced stick. While I certainly won’t say that Super Mario 64 was utterly cheated out on receiving the gleaming treatment it deserves, in comparison to something like Rare’s remasters of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, Bethesda’s recent DOOM 64 port, or even just the other games within 3D All-Stars for that matter, Nintendo’s fifth-generation golden goose has disappointingly been adapted to Switch, to say the least.

Not only is the game not in widescreen like the other titles, but the framerate is still capped at 30 frames per second. Nintendo has created an authentic experience for those looking for the same adventure players witnessed when this groundbreaking masterpiece initially hit the public, but that does not mean these features could not have been optional. Considering Super Mario Galaxy is running at 1080p, sixty frames per second, surely Nintendo could have gotten the more primitive Nintendo 64 title up to that pristine quality.

Revisiting 2002’s summer vacation to Isle Delfino was a tear-worthy experience for me that one could say was fludding with nostalgia. I am not going to lie, Super Mario Sunshine was one of the very first console games I ever owned and it is still one of, if not my all-time favorite titles out there. However, ignoring my deep-rooted connection with the GameCube, objectively speaking Sunshine may perhaps be the Mario game that benefits the most from this compilation. Not only does the game look fantastic in widescreen format and high definition like the other games, but that extra field of view increases Delfino’s sense of scale and vision. It is truly incredible how well some of Nintendo’s earliest library of sixth-generation titles hold up visually despite being almost twenty years old.

The biggest concern longtime fans of Super Mario Sunshine will have going into this collection is how the control scheme would function. As someone who has played through the GameCube release dozens of times, I can happily confirm that Nintendo has done a fine job porting the game over to Switch. For those who are unaware, Sunshine originally allowed you to dictate the amount of water pressure F.L.U.D.D. would power out depending on how far you held the right trigger in. Due to the Switch’s lack of back analog triggers, replicating the original game’s experience was going to be difficult from the get-go. Nintendo’s solution was to make the character operate entirely on full power mode. This may sound like a major change, but in reality, the old control scheme was merely a feature that was fun to mess around with rather than a game-changing aspect. Outside of the late game’s irritating casino pachislot before the King Boo boss fight, there is no other area affected by the alteration.

While Nintendo’s newest GameCube emulation is surely impressive, it may not be entirely flawless for every perfectionist’s liking. Sunshine does indeed contain some minor faults that can likely be fixed in a future patch if Nintendo ever so chooses to release one. There are two notable quirks that will bother longtime fans although it should be mentioned that these are incredibly nitpicky changes in the grand scheme of things. For one, I noticed that a specific sound effect heard multiple times before timed missions had been changed to an oddly annoying censored beep- way to make El Piantissimo and Blooper racing bother more newcomers. Secondly, during some of the Fluddless missions focused on platforming, textured blocks that players are not supposed to see can appear that indicate an object’s trajectory.

Speaking of trajectories, its time to talk about the outer space adventure veterans probably have the most questions about. To bring this library to a close, we have 2007’s astronomical hit Super Mario Galaxy– the most critically praised game in this entire package, with the highest Metacritic and OpenCritic scores out of these three monoliths. Super Mario Galaxy is definitely the closest game to hit the modern standard of Mario’s latest globe-trotting adventures. When it comes to gorgeously designed landscapes and compact areas to explore, there are times where Galaxy could quite honestly stand toe to toe with Super Mario Odyssey from a distance. On top of this, we have what is arguably the most heartfelt Mario story to date as its beautifully constructed narrative never pulls any punches with its wholesome story entirely told through chapters of short text and subcontext.

Galaxy heavily utilized the Wii remote and nunchuck, but Nintendo is offering players with quite a few ways to now enjoy the title. Both Pro-Controller and Joy-Con proclaimers can breath easy because Galaxy supports both formats. While they may not be as pinpoint accurate as they previously were, the latest control schemes are exceptional. When playing with either of these controller options, you will have to utilize either motion or gyro to move the Luma cursor used to collect star bits, stop enemies, or solve various puzzles. Since the Switch lacks the intricately designed motion controls of the Wii, the developers have smartly mapped the right trigger to reset the cursor to the center of the screen.

The only aspect of Super Mario Galaxy that can often become problematic is when the game is being played in handheld mode, but this really only applies to specific sections of the game. In regards to on the go action, the game’s motion controls have been optimized for the touch screen, however, anyone who has played the Wii release can probably tell why this would not always work efficiently. When it comes to specifically collecting star bits, Galaxy can be a nightmare to try and multitask as you have to either pull your hand away from moving the left stick or inputting basic action commands like jumping. Menus and motion puzzles work great in handheld mode and can even be easier to play at times, but it is odd that the docked and tabletop control schemes can not be used with attached Joy-Cons.

Outside of the core three titles, Nintendo has opted out of including any special modes or features, unlike some of their various other notable anniversary titles such as Kirby’s Dream Collection or even the original Super Mario All-Stars rerelease on Wii. Without the additional extra content that properly commemorates the history of the Super Mario Bros. series, this anniversary can feel dishearteningly shallow as it looks more like a hangout than a massive birthday on the surface. Aside from including each game’s incredible soundtracks that double down as a way to always mix up your main menu experience, there are no art pages, interviews, design documents, or anything significant to glance at in this collection when it comes to additional trincites to awe at.

At the bare minimum, Nintendo could have at least included each title’s original manual for players to browse through, but even that is absent here. Even Super Mario Maker’s physical release came with a special booklet for fans to peruse five years ago. The games are obviously what matters most, but for something made to celebrate such a noteworthy milestone, audiences will definitely be expecting more from a character as iconic as Mario. The Super Mario Bros. franchise has such a fascinating history with a literal ocean of trivia and art worth exploring that you can find across several official artbooks, social media platform pages, and wikis. It is truly a shame that Nintendo did not go the extra mile to include any of this when commemorating 35 years of their mascot, but once again, the games at the spotlight are what truly matters most.

Despite its minor emulation issues and missing opportunities, 3D All-Stars manages to defy three incredible generations in one worthwhile package.

With its outstanding lineup of three masterclass generation-defining titles, Super Mario 3D All-Stars exceeds in a value rightfully way above its retail price tag as it bundles together three incredible journies into one package. Whether it is your first time getting to know Mario’s fantastical world or you are coming back to relive your childhood memories, this is a special title that offers some of the finest platforming adventures the red plumber has embarked on. Outside of the fact that it is literally a limited-time release, Nintendo’s latest anniversary best-hits extravaganza is well worth running out to purchase. If you have not played Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, or Super Mario Galaxy, you owe it to yourself to experience every one of these games.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is indeed lacking in bonus content to make this truly feel like a shebang worth celebrating, but its three games keep the entire party from ever being less than exceptional. All three games included still remain tremendously entertaining as they prove to excel upon the passage of time. Perhaps it is not the grand superstar it could have potentially been, but it will put a huge smile on any veteran or newcomer’s face as they explore Peach’s castle grounds, take on a thwarted island vacation, or skyrocket into the cosmos that have brought decades of enjoyment to audiences of all ages. Collect your coins and get it while you can or begin plotting a Bowser-like scheme to score a copy in the distant future.

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PAX Online: ‘Unpacking’ and ‘Infernax’

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game the calm and relaxing Unpacking and the not-so calm and relaxing Infernax.

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Unpacking and Infernax

Our PAX Online coverage continues with a game that takes a hated activity and somehow makes it relaxing and another game that will leave you clenching your buttocks.

Unpacking

Unpacking game

Platforms: PC
Release: 2021

As someone who is coming fresh off of moving just a little over a month ago, you couldn’t have blamed me for being a little skeptical going into what was dubbed a “zen puzzle” game based on the final stretch of the process. Unpacking is just that, though. It’s a calming, almost therapeutic exercise that happened to serve as a wonderful way for me to unwind at the end of a day.

Unpacking is exactly what it says on the tin. There are no scores, no timers, no leaderboards, just you, and a few boxes with various items in them that need to be placed somewhere. The demo starts with a single bedroom in 1997. There’s nothing in the game that tells you where something should go, only your own taste and intuition; a locked diary would probably go in a desk-drawer while a soccer trophy would probably be displayed on a shelf.

As I slowly unearthed items one-by-one, I gradually got a feel for what the room’s new inhabitant was most likely like. The endless supply of stuffed animals implied someone of younger age while the numerous art supplies indicated someone inclined to right brain thinking. It’s rather engaging to learn about this person’s life purely by their belongings.

Every item taken out was like a delightful surprise and would sometimes even make me feel a little sentimental such as when I took out a small device that was clearly a Tamagotchi. More importantly, Unpacking nails that sinking feeling of when you feel like you’ve used all your available space but still have boxes left. Reaching the point of just throwing stuff wherever it fits is such an immediately relatable feeling that I was almost offended. And that was only for a single bedroom!

Unpacking game

The demo’s second stage was a little more involved with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen in the year of 2004. The hilarious moments of finding a boot in your kitchenware box or a bra with your toiletries also felt like a call-out to my own hodge-podge packing methods. It’s something I can’t help but let out an exasperated chuckle at.

It was also neat to see how this person has grown since their earlier abode. Much fewer stuffed animals but more art supplies and a brand new computer imply this character is maybe entering the working adult world. I’ve never actually seen this character, but I can’t help but feel a connection to them already, and that was only after two moves. The full game will have eight total moves to follow them through and I am genuinely curious to see how our nameless and faceless protagonist grows throughout them.

Now if only unpacking in real life could be this soothing.

Infernax

Infernax

Platforms: PC
Release: TBA

Some players may recognize Berzerk Studio for their excellent 2018 bullet-hell, rhythm game Just Shapes & Beats. Coming hot of the heels of that hit they immediately pivoted in the new direction with Infernax, a delightfully edgy 8-bit adventure platformer that takes cues from old-school Castlevania titles.

Our hero returns to his land after a successful crusade only to find it overrun by horrible monstrosities in every which direction. With nothing but mace in hand, he sets out on a quest anew to rid the land of the undead filth. Immediately apparent upon starting is just how tightly the game controls; anyone fond of earlier NES titles will feel right at home with Infernax. I quickly got a handle on my exact attack reach down to the pixel and began mowing down the zombies in front of me. It emphasized how much joy a game is possible of eliciting from simply a jump and attack button.

Getting to that proficiency is important too because the game doesn’t waste any time in taking off the training wheels! Even the base enemies shaved off half my HP if I got careless and that difficulty ramped up at a rapid rate as new enemy types were introduced at a decent clip such as flying evil eyes and jumping rodents. Not only do these foes burst into tasty experience points and gold to be spent on upgrades, but also into extremely satisfying fountains of blood.

Infernax isn’t particularly shy about turning up the gore factor, but it’s still impressive by just how creative they get with it using simple pixel art. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you are killed. Every single enemy type has a unique kill animation when they deal the final blow to our hero. From the chump ass pillbugs to the big bad bosses, all of them mutilate you in a different way and it’s honestly morbidly mesmerizing to witness. It made me want to suicide against every enemy I came across just so I could see what creative way they took my life.

Infernax

Depending on your playstyle you might not want to do this, though, as Infernax features two different ways to respawn when you die. Hardcore respawn sends you all the way back to your last save point, just like in those classic NES titles. Casual respawn lets you restart right where you left off with no loss in progress, but choosing to do so locks you out from Hardcore the rest of the game. It’s a sort of mark of shame that I was glad to wear during the demo after I came up against the final boss and promptly got my ass handed to me. It sounds a little cheeky on paper but is actually very consistent with the game’s overtly edgy tone.

Infernax feels like a game that was lost to time during the NES era and is just now being rediscovered. Those looking for for a game that harkens back to the simplicity of the olden days need not look any further.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Going Full Circle

We’re featuring five exciting indie games in our latest spotlight, including the internship roguelike Going Under and the cozy puzzles of Lonesome Village.

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Journey of the Broken Circle

Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s biweekly column where we highlight some of the most exciting new and upcoming independent games. Summer may have come to a close, but that hasn’t stopped big announcements from rolling in. With events like PAX Online and the recent PlayStation 5 Showcase flooding the web with announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage, there’s been a constant deluge of news to keep up with. With so much coming on the horizon, we’re spotlighting five exciting indies that you’ll be able to play sooner rather than later. Whether you’re in the mood for a brutally addictive action game or a cozy adventure and social sim, there’s bound to be a game that speaks to you in this spotlight.

Moving Up Professionally in Going Under

Work is its own payment in Going Under. In this action game from developer Aggro Crab, you’re put in the shoes of an unpaid intern who must explore the endless ruins of failed tech startups while fighting off the monsters that spawn within them. It’s hard work to do without a single paycheck—but hey, at least you’re gaining valuable experience!

As a former unpaid intern myself, the writing in Going Under certainly resonates with me and it’s sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt underappreciated or overworked. Its vibrant and colorful 3D graphics, as well as its satirical story, only make it all the more enticing. It really should offer a great working experience when it hits all consoles and PC via Steam on September 24.

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Fill in the Gaps in Journey of the Broken Circle

Something’s missing in Journey of the Broken Circle. Like its name would suggest, this puzzle platformer follows a Pacman-like circle with a hole to fill. It wanders through a world that is whimsical and existential at once, searching for a companion to fill its gaps. As the circle rolls through ethereal environments, it encounters different shapes to use that allow for new gameplay mechanics.

Journey of the Broken Circle might be about an abstract shape, but in its quest to become whole, it strives to capture the human experience. It promises to be an intimate experience that clocks in at about five hours to complete. If you’re interested in getting this ball rolling, it’s already available now on Switch and Steam.

Prepare to Get GORSD

There’s a delicate balance between unsettling the player without being outright scary. GORSD treads the line here as a one-hit-kill shooter that stars humans encased in the skins of octopuses, dragons with human faces, and nightmarish environments. Something feels off about GORSD, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting.

Brought to life with detailed pixel art, GORSD supports up to four players who can face off in chaotic matches in varied arenas. It also features a full-fledged single-player campaign with a vast overworld with dozens of unique stages. Its concept is inspired by its developers’ native Southeast Asian cultures, making for a unique gameplay and aesthetic experience. If you’re ready to dive in and see it for yourself, it’s available now on all consoles and PC via Steam.

Get Ready For a Foregone Conclusion

Saying Foregone is a 2D Dark Souls would be cliché, but accurate nonetheless. It’s a hardcore action game where you’ll fight against insurmountable odds to prevent monsters from overrunning the world. It has a brutally addictive gameplay loop—its difficulty may be excruciating, but because it offers a wide assortment of abilities to leverage, it’s immensely euphoric once you overcome the challenges before you.

This beautiful 3D/pixelated hybrid action game has been available on PC in early access since February, but at long last, it’s seeing its full console release in October. It’s been a promising title ever since its pre-release days, and now that it’s finally seeing its complete iteration, there’s never been a better time to dive in and give it a shot. It’s hitting all platforms on October 5, so there’s not long to wait!

Finding Good Company in a Lonesome Village

Mix Zelda with Animal Crossing and you might get something like Lonesome Village. This newly-revealed puzzle adventure game features Zelda-like adventure in a hand-drawn world populated by animal characters. Players control a wandering coyote who stumbles upon a strange village and decides to investigate its mysterious happenings by interacting with villagers, solving puzzles, and exploring its dungeons.

It’s more than a simple adventure game. In addition to puzzle-solving, you’ll interact with Lonesome Village’s eclectic cast of characters to forge relationships and unravel brooding mysteries. It’s showing plenty of potential with its cozy gameplay loop, and if you want to give it a shot, check out its official demo from its Kickstarter page! It’s already been fully funded in less than 24 hours, but if you want to help the developers out even further, consider contributing to their campaign.

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