Tag Archives: GBJAM4

Back-tracking with purpose in Cuckoo Castle

cuckoo castle gbjam4 impressions gd

I’m not exactly sure what it is about these GameBoy Jams that brings about games involving animals and mysterious castles, but Cuckoo Castle is now the second I’ve encountered. The previous one was Meowgical Tower. It’s not that I’m anti-animals or mysterious castles, but I’d like to see a castle exploring a mysterious animal next year to mix things up when the inevitable GameBoy Jam 5 drops.

That said, the protagonist of Cuckoo Castle isn’t ultimately an animal, but the castle you explore is filled with an assortment of antagonistic critters,¬†like sewer rats and swooping bats, as well as spirits of the undead. Eventually, you get to decide between controlling three different adventurers: a lonely knight with a massively huge sword, a fireball-tossing witch accompanied by the cutest pixel kitty cat ever, and some kind of bug thing that likes to dig. Overall, it’s a bite-sized Metroidvania that, when it comes to the boss battles, can be difficult in spots, but moves like hot butter off bread and feels massive despite being relatively contained.

Gameplay is as follows: leave the empty village and enter the castle in search of villagers while also killing monsters and opening up more of the map. You can recover your HP at pig statues, as well as teleport back to the village to speak with those you saved. Some will offer clues, and you can also switch between protagonists in the village. The lonely knight reminds me greatly of how your warrior moved in Rogue Legacy, with his mighty sword held aloft. The witch can jump higher, but her attacks deal less damage and it takes some learning to grok how her fireballs move with a curved trajectory. I did not try out the bug thing. As you get further through the castle, you can hit levers to open up shortcuts, which makes back-tracking to the village not so bad.

Once again, I’m astounded at the tech here. I don’t remember actual GameBoy games looking this good, moving this fast, and that might be because nothing back then is as solid as the stuff being produced these days to resemble the age-old adventures. The animations in Cuckoo Castle–which I’ve seen hilariously mispronounced in a few YouTube vids–are clean and full of character, and the lighting, much like with The Night That Speaks, helps hide things in the shadows like how things in shadows should be hidden. Plus, pixel kitty cats abound back in the village. But seriously, give it up for the developers, especially when you consider the time-crunch this was produced under

I was hoping to kick Cuckoo Castle‘s butt and put it on my growing list of games completed for the year, but alas, no. The second boss–or it could be the last boss for all I know–is Dracula, and I just couldn’t best him. Granted, I only tried with the kitty-loving witch and not the warrior, but I already removed the game from my laptop. Oops. I tried looking up online to see if anyone gotten further than me in video form, but it’s fairly barren out there. In the end, I rescued six villagers and eviscerated a giant sewer rat. You can try and do better than me by grabbing a free copy of Cuckoo Castle or playing it in your browser over this way.

Flipping the bird hard in The Night That Speaks

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The Night That Speaks is not your typical game jam entry, especially when we’re talking about the GameBoy Jam. Quick–think of every single horror adventure you ever played on Nintendo’s GameBoy as a wee lad or lass. Not coming up with many names? Yeah, that system wasn’t really known for the jump-scares and spooky hallways, championing more colorful, safe outings like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Super Mario Land. Stuff one can eat up on a cross-country drive in the family’s station wagon that wouldn’t give a kid nightmares later at the hotel, unless you just couldn’t get over that Kumo enemy design.

Anyways, The Night That Speaks is a small, creepy walking simulator which has you, a nameless teenage soul witnessed only by your extended milky white hand, exploring catacombs beneath a graveyard. Why? That’s a good question, with no clear answer. Something to do with a dead girl perhaps. Also, there’s a freaky ghost-skeleton-monster chasing after you as you gather clues via collectible notes, with your only defense being crude hand gestures. It’s scary and goofy and a little hard to deduce, but from the visual and audio departments, this is one fine piece of work. Certainly, I’ve never seen anything like it before, not in this perspective.

I’ve not played, nor will I probably ever, things like Slender: The Eight Pages or Outlast, but I’ve watched others tackle them. Y’know, that way I can close my Internet browser if events become too traumatic to bear. I’m not good at scary games, and I guess I need to pony up soon as I did make a promise at the start of this year that I’d get through Silent Hill 3 this October. Sigh. Either way, those games follow a similar trajectory, with the player wandering around a bit, collecting notes or scraps of paper, and with each piece discovered, there’s a greater chance of the monster showing up. I’m not into this, as the idea of being hunted by a hunter you can’t see is beyond paralyzing. Basically, this means that the moment I get the feeling that something is following me or right around the corner, all I want to do is shut my eyes and quit to desktop.

That said, Adam Ryu‘s The Night That Speaks is worth checking out, just to watch how the lighting and shadows work as you move forward through the graveyard and deeper into the labyrinth of catacombs. It’s amazingly detailed and immersive for such a retro style. I’m no tech guy, so I don’t actually know if this sort of game could’ve existed on the original GameBoy hardware, but if it could–man, what a different world that would’ve been. Pressing the “Z” key in allows you to “exert your will,” which is a nice way of saying giving someone the middle finger. If you time this right, you can keep the scary ghost-skeleton-monster at bay for a bit, but I mostly flipped the bird at lanterns or tables or anything that got in my way. I played for about twenty minutes, dying a handful of times–so I don’t know if there’s a conclusion or way to win.

Let’s end with some non-solicited advice from a genuine scaredy-cat: don’t wander into ominous catacombs in the dead of night, armed with only a gesture¬† manner meant to degrade, intimidate, and threaten. At least bring a flashlight. Maybe the really heavy kind that doubles as a blunt object. Or, I don’t know, stay home and watch old episodes of Frasier when the darkness becomes too much. You’re welcome, and stay safe.

Tilt every platform to make it through Through

gbjam4 through impressions gd

Here’s the unfortunate reality: I will never have enough time to explore all the game jams out there that I want to explore. I’m still not even close to seeing all the entries from GameBoy Jam 3, of which there are 237 in total, and I’ve tried out a whooping three, each of which had something unique or fun to offer: The Tale of Kelda, Roguelight, and Meowgical Tower. Now here we are with a further 181 creations for the next iteration, the rightfully named GameBoy Jam 4, and I don’t know what to do with myself. Guess I’ll play something.

Through is a short, proof of concept puzzle platformer starring a tiny black pixel that could probably befriend the likes of Boxboy and the doomed hero from Disposabot. There are twelve levels in total, with the goal being to reach the teleport pad; however, it’s not always a straight path to it, and this is where tilting takes over. By pushing our tiny retro pixel soldier against a wall for a second or two, he or she or it can pass through, turning the wall into empty space and reshuffling the other platforms around. It’s a bit mind-bending, and I never really saw how the world shifted or was going to shift, like one eventually did in Fez, but if you kept playing around with tilting this way or that, the exit would get closer and closer.

The twelve levels here are not difficult, especially the first three that act more like a tutorial than anything, and so Through is more of a casual playthrough, where you try pushing against a wall and seeing what happens. If it doesn’t work out, jump elsewhere and push another wall. Floor spikes make an appearance only in the final level, and those kind of dangerous elements could have been introduced earlier to create some tension or force players to find an alternate path to the exit. All of this is backed by a looping soundtrack of bloops and bleeps, though it works well enough.

A “To be continued…” message pops up after you finish Through‘s final level, and I do hope we get more from this. The mechanics are there, but a little more variety could help, as well as a smidgen more art, though the simple graphics help create a lonely aesthetic. The game’s developer goes by the username goshki, and I’m not familiar with any of his other work, but I’d love to see this warp maze puzzle game expand into something a bit trickier, more demanding. Personally, I think it’d be a great fit on the Nintendo 3DS, especially if there’s a level editor involved, wherein we can then see what others can create with this idea. All right, I’m off to get a cup of coffee, and I think I’ll just push against the kitchen wall afterwards and see where it takes me.