The world continues to be a waking nightmare in 2019, so there’s never been a better (and worse!) time to be in the escapist media business. As the Playstation 5 and Xbox Whatever loom ahead in 2020, and the various digital storefronts go to war, we here in the local indie games scene are still plugging away and making fun stuff. So while we’re all stuck inside for the next couple months of snow, support your local game maker by snuggling up by the fire with some of their sweet games!!
1.) Kine from Chump Squad
Kine is a jazzy puzzle game from ex-Bioshock animator Gwen Frey, released through her new studio Chump Squad. Playing as a trio of living instruments trying to join a band, you solve puzzles by rolling snare drums, sliding trombones, and extending accordions to maneuver levels. It’s incredibly rare to find small-team projects as slick and cohesive as Kine; hand-drawn shading gives the art an improvisational looseness that vibes with the music, and the soothing colors and mellow walking bass keeps you from getting too frustrated with the puzzles. Being a game about music, Kine of course rocks an original soundtrack of spicy jazz riffs by local game composer Mitchel Wong, which you can get on Bandcamp.
2.) Kind Words from Popcannibal
Kind Words is, at its core, a platform for sending nice messages to people. You write anonymous letters about what’s bringin’ you down, send them out to the world, and strangers write back to reassure you with anecdotes and encouragement about similar situations they’ve endured and reassurances that everything’s gonna be OK. What makes it work is creator Ziba Scott’s application of systems; rather than simply matching people up with penpals and letting them write whatever, interactions with other players are designed so it’s either impossible or unrewarding to troll each other, and users are primed for kindness by Ella the mail deer, who greets you and invites you to write your first letter. The result is a warm community overflowing with gratitude for Kind Words’ oasis of positive vibes amid the terrifying existential crisis we inhabit day to day.
3.) Factory Town by Erik Asmussen
How do you feel about conveyor belts? Turns out I fuckin’ love conveyor belts, so I’ve played a ton of Erik Asmussen’s Factory Town this year. It’s a sandbox town-building game about creating elaborate production lines. The game starts with you assigning workers to chop trees and escalates quickly into a deeply satisfying puzzle of conveyor belt and train track layouts winding through forests and alleyways. A solo developer who’s been working on Factory Town for several years now, Erik’s impressive dedication to constantly improving the game has resulted in a dedicated following who hang out in the games Discord chat server and share pictures of their mind boggling factory layouts. As the world descends into chaos, what could be more relaxing than idling away the hours building a massive factory to efficiently deliver magical pants?
4.) Later Alligator by Smallbü
Boston based animation studio SmallBü is pretty well known for their YouTube series Baman Piderman and their work on cartoons like Adventure Time, so it was a cool surprise to see them were gettin’ into the games racket with Later Alligator. Later Alligator is a bit of a throwback point n’ click adventure game, and unlike most modern games which use character rigs to control movement and animate characters, every frame of animation in Later Alligator was hand-drawn by Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera. Their efforts have paid off, creating an intensely charming adventure game featuring over 100 alligators like Sweet Geraldine, criminal mastermind of the claw machine. It’s a genuine pleasure to spend some time soaking in Later Alligator’s adorable art and non-stop jokes, like a crocodile in a very funny bathtub.
Later Alligator also features a jazz and blues soundtrack by (not local) composer 2Mello who I mostly wanted to shout out ‘cause his midnight broadcasts albums are tight.
5.) 20 Minute Metropolis by Humble Bundle
Dejobaan Games boss Ichiro Lambe is a dad now, so he doesn’t have hours to spend zoning residential areas and adjusting tax rates.
But he does have 20 minutes.
20 Minute Metropolis borrows the core mechanics of laying out city infrastructure from sprawling simulators like Sim City and crams them into a tight, refined package. Rather than endlessly tweaking road layouts to improve traffic and streamlining industrial output over dozens of hours, bang a quick city out, see how you did, and take what you learned to do better next time. 20 minutes too short? Great news! 30 Minute Metropolis is currently in development.
20 Minute Metropolis is part of Humble Bundle’s Trove, which you get access to with a $12 subscription: https://www.humblebundle.com/subscription/trove