Happy Leap Day everyone, the day that only comes along once every four years! Do we have a bunch of great titles for you to keep an eye on for this week’s Indie Roundup. We start out this week with one of the most clever parodies of RPGs this author’s seen in a long while, Medioce Monster and then follow up with a gorgeous and incredibly promising one-man project, Pinstripe. As a special treat this week, I’ve included one of my personal favorite indie experiences, Dwarf Fortress and, finally, we wrap up with a genre-blending game that puts most triple-A experiences to shame: Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom.
Mediocre Monster (Opal Squad)
Our first game this week is a novel idea from the squad over at Opal Squad: Mediocre Monster, an RPG experience in which you don’t play as the adventurer (or group of adventurers) but, rather, that titular “mediocre monster” that they grind for experience and loot.
Imps. Goblins. Slimes. Shitake Mushrooms. These are a few of the first and weakest monsters you face in classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Chrono Trigger. These monsters lead a depressing existence: walk around the forest, get slashed by a level 1 hero a few times, and disintegrate in an orange blur. Or so you think.
This is all in a day’s work for the employees of “The Bestiary”, the worldwide leader in random monster outsourcing. Employees go to the office each morning, get dressed, and go to work to pretend to die to heroes for their enjoyment.
Mediocre Monster puts you in the role of Gob, as he goes through everyday life working as a random monster. Follow Gob as he goes through a journey from being a lowly tutorial monster in the Tutorial Forest to being palette swapped into a well-respected monster who still dies to heroes easily, but after slightly more hits.
The game is subversive and fourth-wall breaking in the extreme. Gob lives in “The Grind,” a town that was once thriving in the 1990s (the hayday of the JRPG boom) but has since fallen to stagnation as the monsters – the town’s chief export – have moved on to greener pastures in the “Mobile and FPS districts.” The town’s leader, Chief Pocajello, has even fallen prey to that most heinous of addictions: free-to-play games, which puts the town itself in a bit of a bind as he uses tax revenues to purchase virtual gems and coins. Now, the town is in danger of being “repurposed into a casual city builder location.” This puts the Bestiary in a sticky situation as they’re being tapped to make up the revenues…which, in turn, puts Gob on the line to recruit more monsters to fill in the ranks.
What follows is a humorous parody of RPGs that takes a look at the other side of the coin: how monsters deal with being constantly grinded for loot and experience but still manage to make it home in one piece and enjoy a bit of welcome time off.
When heroes face these regular monsters, they are oblivious to the amount of work and effort these monsters put in to give them a good experience (and experience points).
The goal of the monster is to eventually pretend to die as the hero strikes a killing blow. There are a lot of tasks to be done, however, before your HP reaches 0.
Pinstripe (Atmos Games)
Pinstripe is a new project by Tomas Brush…and only Thomas Brush. That’s right. This beautiful project is being concocted by one man.
The basic premise of the game is that you are an ex-minister named Teddy who “must explore Hell in search of his daughter Bo, who has been kidnapped by a strange entity claiming to be God.”
Pinstripe features bizarre and interesting puzzles, strange monsters to shoot with your handy shotgun, and unique and lovable characters to engage with in order to advance through Hell.
Simple gameplay is the cornerstone of Pinstripe, and was the goal from the start. With simplistic and casual gameplay, the player can focus on the art, music, and story, and become immersed in the beautiful atmosphere. The goal of Pinstripe is to make you feel like a kid again without being bogged down with stuff that is confusing and unnecessarily. This is achieved by picking up the controller, running around and exploring the strange world, hanging out with funny characters, and occasionally shooting your shotgun to complete puzzles. For Pinstripe, simple gameplay makes exploring Hell super fun.
Pinstripe is narrative focused, fully-committed to its emotional (and more than a little creepy) story of a father undertaking the trials of hell itself to save his daughter. The story is told with beautiful, stylized 2D graphics and a haunting soundtrack that make the landscapes of Hell come alive like few other games have managed before it.
Exploration is the name of the game in Pinstripe and the moment-to-moment gameplay revolves around platforming in a 2D environment and solving puzzles as you follow your dog, George, around to not only find your daughter but also uncover secrets about your past.
You can check out the game on Kickstarter, where it has crushed its original $28,000 goal and is at dangerous risk of running out of stretch goals before its crowdfunding month is up. You can also follow Brush on Twitter (@atmosgames) and Facebook.
Dwarf Fortress (Bay 12 Games)
Ok, usually in the Indie Roundup we feature new projects, projects that are still early in development, but I’m exercising my editorial prerogative to include one of my favorite gaming experiences over the last decade this week: Dwarf Fortress, another impressive one-man project by Tarn Adams.
Many of you may have heard of this project, which has been a “work in progress” for well over 10 years now. In short, you are put in charge of a fortress. Of dwarves. But from that rather simplistic premise comes one of the most labyrinthine and complex games ever devised by mankind. It would take days and hundreds of pages to describe all of the features that are included in Dwarf Fortress, but suffice it to say that it is, quite simply put, one of the most in-depth and complex city-builders ever created.
Your dwarves have a myriad of jobs – everything from the obvious miners, who dig out halls and rooms for your dwarves to live and work in, and carpenters and masons, who build furniture and trade goods, to the more arcane beekeepers, mechanics, glassmakers and millers. If ever there was a city-building game with a complete list of occupations, Dwarf Fortress is it.
The game features basic ascii graphics that can be improved upon by one of the community’s numerous graphical packs. In fact, the game’s community is one of the most active in gaming and has created numerous tools to make the game more accessible – which is a blessing as the game’s default UI is not exactly the most user-friendly.
Other features include invasions, which your military will have to repel, a robust world-building engine that will spawn other civilizations to trade with (as well as colossal “forgotten beasts” that may show up and end your game prematurely), “adventure mode” in which you play a single dwarf traveling around the procedurally-generated world getting into trouble, and much, much more. Dwarf Fortress is less a game and more a storytelling engine and with no true “win state,” it’s basically your job to just build up your fortress as much as you can before you ultimately lose. Because you will lose. A lot. But like the community says: “losing is Fun!”
While the game is technically in a prolonged “alpha” state, I wouldn’t hold out for a full release. Dwarf Fortress is a labor of love for the game’s developer, Tarn Adams, and is likely to remain in a constantly evolving and improving state until the end of time.
You can check out the game and download it free here but be warned, this is an arcane and labyrinthine game that can seem completely impenetrable to all but the most invested, as can be evidenced by dredging through the game’s Wiki. But trust me when I say that once you have learned even the most basic aspects of the game, it is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have with your computer.
Strike the Earth!
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom (Ynnis Interactive)
I’m a sucker for novel genre combinations and Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom has that feature in spades. An RPG/exploration/fighting game, Shiness combines unique aspects from all of those genres in seemingly novel and fluid ways, all combined with graphics and gameplay that puts most triple-A developments to shame.
In Shiness, you take command of a team of five characters, the crew of a flying vessel in a world of floating islands. The game begins with Chado and Poky, a pair of “Wakis” (which seem to be a race of rodent-like anthropomorphic animals), accidentally strand themselves on one of these islands, which turns out to be not terribly welcoming.
Shiness is a Role Playing Game which will let you dive into a new adventure across Sky Islands. In a world where every land strives for power, two Wakis named Chado and Poky, traveling aboard a flying boat, accidentally land on a very dangerous island. Prepare yourself for an epic journey into a huge universe that will stay with you for a long time! With its unpredictable storylines and frenetic gameplay, Shiness is waiting for you to play the story imagined 20 years ago by our Creative Director and finally brought to life.
The game’s novelty comes from combining its three seemingly disparate genres into one fluid whole. Exploration of the world is done on a 3D plane. You traverse the world and uncover more areas to explore by taking advantage of your characters’ special abilities. For example, Chado, ostensibly the game’s protagonist, summons a rock on his back. This allows him, in certain instances, to weigh down pressure plates to open doors (for example). His buddy Poky, meanwhile, has various technological abilities that range from repairing machines to manipulating magnetic fields and electrical streams.
When things go south, however, your squad is going to have to fight, and these battles are done in a 3D plane with mechanics more similar to a fighting game.
But since it’s a RPG, we needed to have a certain level of strategy depth during fights. Far from traditional turn-based RPG systems, we wanted fighting and exploration to remain closely connected at each and every moment. Therefore, every fight happens directly on the main map with barely no transition between the fight and the exploration modes (the only difference being the summoning of the Arena), maintaining a fast rhythm and constant in-game action interactions!
Combat is a mix of melee and magical attacks, counters, dodges, combos, everything you’d expect from an actual fighting game. Fights occur in a summoned “arena” and you have the ability to summon “support” characters from your team during the fray. The game, and in particular its combat system, are heavily inspired by animé and manga.
All of this is tempered with the narrative focus, questsm gear, and character progression of an RPG.
So yeah, there’s a lot going on. But far from seeming overwhelming, every aspect of Shiness seems to fit together like a huge, beautiful jigsaw puzzle. To check it out for yourself, head on over to the game’s Kickstarter page and check out the developer on Twitter.