Looking at it now, this issue of Indie Games that Are Pretty on the Outside (name pending) features three entries that are not quite up to snuff—or what I generally deem snuffy. Am I maturing, leaving my superficiality behind? Probably not. But the following trio of games feature distress-inducing dialogue and deities, rainbow bright pixels paired with animal possession and sacrifice, and deeply retro abstract environments that should probably carry one of those seizure warnings at the beginning. What’s not to love? And speaking of love…
Loved, a game/short story by Alexander Ocias, makes me feel kind of squirmy. If you’re a glutton for discomfort like me, you’ll enjoy it. When it comes to Loved, players seem to come down on one of two sides: 1) this really resonates with me, or 2) this is a sub-par platformer pretending to be art. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
The mechanic that sets Loved apart is that the player answers to an unseen being who relishes in butting in to ask questions and make demands. Sometimes listening to the voice (actually, the text) is simple. “Touch the statue, I will forgive you.” Other times, its orders are hard to swallow. “Throw yourself into the barbs.” “Beg for me.”
Obviously, your choices alter the game. Loved is very short and worth two playthroughs—I recommend playing first as an obedient imp, and second as a defiant one. Turns out it’s easier to be obedient. Every time you do what the text asks, the field gains clarity. Those red squares become spikes and blocks. Those green rectangles start looking like statues. On the other hand, whenever you travel the wrong path or touch what you’re told not to, the black and white canvas gains color. Bright pixels infiltrate the screen, and as they multiply, the platforms and obstacles become harder and harder to see. Difficulty level aside, you know you would prefer to throw off your chains instead of reinforce them, so save that for round two.
Is Loved a commentary on faith and religion? Probably. Is it a game with artistic merit? Maybe. Is it worth checking out? Definitely.
If you’re in the mood for a Technicolor adventure from the bottom of a spike-filled pit to Ascension (and, trust me, you are), check out Soul Brother.
Soul Brother is a delight by superflat games with music by Sonic (behind both those curtains: Jasper Byrne). In it you play as Mr. Soul, a spirit that gets around by possessing a medley of animal pals. When it comes time for Mr. Soul to move from one animal to the next—they have different skills, so there’s a time and place for each of them—it’s a matter of sending the current animal helper to its death. Mr. Soul becomes uncorporeal again and can move to the next animal and platform.
Navigating the puzzle-filled map is a fun and sometimes frustrating challenge. The game comes in such a lovely package, though, that it’s hard to quit after the tenth time you’ve been felled by the same sharp edge. Each new area of the map is, impossibly, more colorful than the last, and the scan lines are a perfect vintage-cherishing touch. With the addition of catchy tunes and great humor (e.g., a room full of spinning saws named “Kobayashi’s Friendly Adventure,” which is incidentally a lot easier than another room titled “Kobayashi’s Unfriendly Adventure”), Soul Brother is a must-play.
Fotonica is a first person game by Santa Ragione, a developer that creates beautiful games with very simple graphics. Fotonica looks like like Mirror’s Edge and the old school Windows Mystify Your Mind screensaver had a baby—or, as Santa Ragione puts it, like an homage to the geometrical abstractions from the ’50s and the 3D low-poly gaming era. Your preference.
Fotonica's gameplay is even simpler than its graphics. You use one key—any key—to run, jump, and land. But if you have bad timing, the ambient electronic noise that ties the fast-paced levels together will do little to calm your nerves as you repeatedly plummet to your death. A friend of mine who once watched me play the abovementioned Mirror’s Edge redubbed it “Falling: The Game,” and either Fotonica took a page out of that book or I’m just awful at running and jumping. (Virtually and IRL.)
Fotonica is not meant to be presented in screenshots. The pictures above can’t capture the way the environment materializes and melts in front of and around you, nor can it give you an idea of the game’s pace or the soothing effect of the “gold” sequences that begin when you’re—against all odds—doing well. So, I’ve embedded the game trailer below. Give it a watch, then either try the demo on Kongregate or download and pay what you want (including $0) for Mac or PC.