The Best Games You Aren’t Playing: May 2022

The Best Games You Aren't Playing: May 2022

It’s time once again for another one of these!

spirits mirror

spirits mirror::digital possessed

paid (Itch) | Taylor Swietanski

spirits mirror::digital possessed is intense to look at, of a piece with Taylor Swietanski’s prior (and free!) series of eye-warping vignettes, THAT NIGHT, STEEPED BY BLOOD RIVER. It’s a particularly distinct niche, the effect feeling as if you wore heat vision goggles so long that they began to fuse with your eyeballs. It can be difficult to see clearly, the draw distance of its more open “hub” area rather small as well, but that’s what the mirror world is for. Step through a gate and the world gets easier to see, the music spins backwards, and the colors invert, revealing platforms you wouldn’t have noticed before. The HUD, however, gets harder to parse — anyone you speak to in this state will have their dialogue play backwards, as if you’re watching from behind the text box.

The world is sparse, low in detail — some roving points of light might be horses. A weeping person in a crown, a statue of a woman, some references to a witch, a child who hides while you seek. I thought initially of Hyrule Castle Town in Ocarina of Time, with how the technology of the time made it feel a little bit empty even when it wasn’t supposed to be. The mirroring in itself is an impressively seamless touch, but Swietanski loads the brief playtime with one-off mechanics like a magnifying glass, a bow and arrow. All of it builds toward an overarching theme where mirrors only reflect some of ourselves, the things we see in them necessary to behold yet also not entirely reliable.

Domino Club’s Subterranean Jam

Free, most playable in-browser (Itch) | Domino Club

Domino Club describe themselves as “a loose collective of digital artists coming together to participate in anonymous game jams.” For their Subterranean Jam, they’ve produced an impressive series of varied, atmospheric works that range from abstract visual novels, a minotaur puzzler with Game Boy aesthetics, and even a Doom-esque FPS filled with doors that house some vividly nasty snippets of flavor text. I haven’t gotten to all of them, but I have yet to find a weak link in the bunch (and if you want a place to start, the maze-like Windows XP Meteorite Covenant in particular is great).

FEWAR_DVD

FEWAR-DVD

Paid (Itch, Steam) | dev_dwarf, HIS, Lewmoth, nickmuse

It did not take long to recognize that this frantic, arcadey burst of noise was exactly my brand of bullshit. FEWAR-DVD is a maze navigator that demands serpentine motion to avoid the spawning instruments of pain aimed at the flying heart you control. You’re in constant motion, able to take only a few hits while you hope to stumble upon the key to the exit. There are other things in the maze, like useful upgrades and the currency to purchase them, but the longer you take, the more pointy things pop out of the ether to chase you down.

The Lovely Estate

The Lovely Estate – Chapter One

Free (Itch) | chillworksdev

The Lovely Estate is a devious little take on low-poly characters and fixed camera angles, primarily framing your protagonist, Kara, from the POV of the other characters she truly and justifiably freaks out. She looks like a vampire, her eyes hidden by her hair and her mouth one red, gaping crescent. The tank controls become part of what makes her appearance so upsetting, the logical portrayal of a gait that looks more like drunken creeping. She interrogates the people out and about in the halls of a grungy housing area: a landlord in a little glass box, a gun-toting gangster next to a table of aging birthday treats, a little girl who would like you to guess what the coolest animal in the world is. The cursor is a bloody knife, and I hesitated to select the “use knife” dialogue option out of apprehension for what might follow — Kara seems like she’s capable of anything.

Nightmare Reaper

Nightmare Reaper

Paid (Steam) | Blazing Bit Games

Nightmare Reaper is a frankly alarming convergence of old and new, between our modern fascination with the relentlessly progression-minded, proc-gen roguelike template and the old-fashioned FPS, the wryly titled “boomer shooter.” You are strafing around projectiles with a pixelated character portrait in the corner, but you’re doing it while monsters explode into not just gore but into coins to be spent on a skill tree, which in turn facilitates your acquisition of color-coded Gun Loot.

It is a fascinating, Frankenstein-ed object, bloom smeared on lo-fi textures amid randomized occurrences that would never have been possible on the technology it’s made to semi-evoke, like the entire room being spontaneously littered with breakable barrels. It’s got that edgy Satanic of-the-time bent, where our protagonist finds herself locked in a mental hospital and her violent dreams function as the shooter levels, death prompting her to abruptly wake up in a cell with pentagrams and evil scribblings. Even the upgrades are a weird mashup, unlocked by playing bite-sized sidescrolling levels on a Game Boy Advance SP.

Author: Deann Hawkins