Just before writing this I was playing Ridiculous Fishing. And by the time you read this, you’ve probably played it yourselves. So you don’t need me to tell you it’s pretty great. As always with Vlambeer games the feel is just right. The art style is refreshingly different. But most importantly, it does not try to guilt trip you into playing more and more of it. Or ask for your money so you can skip the tedious bits. There are no tedious bits. I would say its old school and honest in that way.
I’ve also played a bit of Year Walk. Yes, most of my video gaming nowadays happens on iOS. Turning on a console to sit down and play a game for real is a big commitment. I hardly ever get around to it. As with Ridiculous Fishing I was enamored by Year Walk’s brave departure from the usual generic art style. The interaction designer in me was also pleasantly surprised by its slightly odd movement controls. You pan left and right to explore a given area, and swipe up and down to move between them. It’s a comfortable way of playing on a touch screen, plus it gels nicely with the layered, picture-book art style. The game’s ominous atmosphere—which I’ll lazily describe as “Blair Witch-esque occult goings-on in a snowy forest” also captivated me.
What put me off though, was one of the first actual puzzles I had to solve. I had to use a code I’d discovered in one area to open up a door in another area. I had to grab a pen and paper and write that code down. It wasn’t hard, but it felt like work. I quickly lost interest after that. I did not feel like doing more of these lock-and-key chores to progress. Come to think of it, this is what put me off FEZ, too. I’d rather just wander around and explore the story world. Similar to Niels’s annoyance with the JRPG tropes in Ni no Kuni, I wanted it to be less of a game, I guess.
Recess! is a correspondence series with personal ruminations on games.
Dear Alper and Niels,
Where to begin? I guess by thanking Alper for kicking this thing off. And to respond to his comments on Proteus—yes, Alper, you’re being a stick in the mud. Proteus isn’t a replacement for a walk in the woods, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended as such. The thing that makes it special for me is the responsive audio, and how navigating the space is also an act of tweaking and tuning the soundscape. The fact that it was used in a live musical performance is no surprise to me, in this regard.
Niels, your exploration of Ni No Kuni’s world sounds like a lot of work. And I wonder, really, why not just sit back and watch a Ghibli film, if you’re that much of a fan. What could a game possibly add? I myself prefer Ghibli-esque exploratory worlds such as Journey. I guess what I’m saying is: leave games to the game makers and films to the film makers. I’m a purist that way.
What to play? I’ve had the pleasure of playing quite a bit of LUFTRAUSERS lately, and it’s shaping up to be a lot of fun. (I guess we’ll need to wait a bit longer for it, now that Vlambeer seems to be finishing Ridiculous Fishing first.) I’ve stopped playing it during work breaks though, I don’t unwind, I get wound up. Each time I’m close to killing my first blimp but then crash and burn I nearly rage-quit the game.
I’ve finished VESPER.5 last week. It took me well over 100 days to do so. Did it turn into a ritual, as Michael Brough intended? I wouldn’t go so far. I would say it got to being a habit. Which, to be honest, is fine. Perhaps becoming a habit is more than enough to aspire to for games. I did however set a recurring to-do in my Things to remind myself to take my daily step. Is that cheating? Or is it a wonderful thing, that a game finds it way into my daily to-do list?
It’s probably not what Alper is looking for. This game won’t help you unwind, you can only do one thing a day. It’s very zen in that regard. You launch the game, watch all your actions up to that point, ponder the next step (trading off between admiring scenery or marching on towards the exit), take your step, and then perhaps spend a few moments considering what you might do the next day. Hit escape, and get back to what you were doing.
It’s also not the fairytale world Niels would like to get lost in. It’s very sparse. There’s a bit of music, low res pixel graphics, hardly any animation. There are still images you “unlock” as you visit certain parts of the game’s world, suggesting a kind of alien landscape. It’s evocative, but in a very different way from Ghibli’s lush works. Perhaps a snow globe is a nice analogy. A thing that sits on your desk or in your windowsill, that you absentmindedly play with occasionally, while taking a break from whatever you are doing. Perhaps it reminds you of a place or time you hold dearly. But it’s not the place itself. It’s a proxy or a totem or whatever the right word is.
I’m well over my intended 250 words. Don’t read on if you’re playing VESPER.5 and hate spoilers. I’ll just leave you here and hand over to Alper again. But if you don’t care, here we go:
The one thing that disappointed me, in a rather unexpected way, is that the game ends abruptly when you get to the end. I thought I’d be rewarded with some nice surprise but I wasn’t. I also thought I’d perhaps done well because I took a lot of detours along the way. But the game did not acknowledge this in any way. What I was left with, was that it was done. I was done. And thinking about it now, that’s a shame. It’s crazy, because the promise of finishing this thing after 100 steps, one step a day, is what got me started, and what propelled be throughout. But now that I’ve gotten into the habit, I don’t think I need that goal anymore.
I’d like a VESPER.5 that just stays with me, like that snow globe. That I can just go through endlessly. A habit, a good one at least, is something that should continue on indefinitely after all.