Tag Archives: retro

Y’know, you have to explore the darkness to move forward in Lampshade

lampshade gd indie game impressions

I recently got a ring in Stardew Valley that emits a small circle of light around my character, which makes exploring the dimmer parts of the mines much easier, especially for my old man eyes. Thankfully, it’s not my only source of light, and it plays a super tiny role in the grand scheme of raiding a mine for resources that you can sell or use back at your house to help fill out those progression-essential Community Center bundles. Wait, I’m not here to talk once more about Perdido Farm. Certainly not until I get through my first winter, at least. This post is about Lampshade from Mister No Wind’s Studio, where you are, more or less, the only source of light, which makes navigating through a dark, labyrinthine cave all the more troublesome. Step by step, as the song goes.

Lampshade tells the story of a nameless woman–let’s call her Lamprini–who must travel through some mysterious, dark cave across six different chapters…for one reason or another. It’s not explicitly said, and the things that are said are said slathered in lyricism and pretentiousness. This is an odd retro world full of platforms and dangerous spikes, but also glitches and strange, old men and rules that are meant to be broken. Also, ghosts that affect your vision upon contact. Every chapter switches things up, and so the simple platforming found in the first chapter becomes hindered by total darkness in chapter two and then completely bonkers after that, with the edges of the screen no longer predictable as merely edges of a screen. It reminds me, as many things often do, of Fez, of Persist.

I’ve had to write some stuff down for Lampshade. I suspect many other players did too, unless they have the mind of three elephants combined. In which case I don’t know if they need to go to the hospital or a museum first. Right, writing. It’s a good thing I like writing because the notes-taking for this under-lit adventure feels…wholly unnecessary. Sure, it is necessary for me to map out where to jump on platforms in pure blackness, but it’s not like the path changes every time I die or if it is even different for other players in their game. It’s the same road, just hidden, and that I guess equates to puzzle platforming. The challenge comes from not being able to see, but that twist doesn’t make it a lot of fun to play.

By the way, Lampshade is played in a browser, using only the arrow keys. Up jumps, and left and right move Lamprini around the level. However, the longer you hold the up key, the higher she jumps. You can use this to your advantage to master hopping up stair-like platforms, but I still found myself losing control of her and missing a landing here and there. Or simply walking off a ledge. You’ll occasionally need to pause in front of lamps, which will reveal the entirety of the screen until you move away from them, leaving you to your memory and platforming skills. Sometimes you have to traverse across several screens before getting to the one you are supposed to have memorized, which can test your total recall ability.

Chapter 4 of Lampshade is most likely where many will walk away or rage quit. I certainly did…of the former. Despite giving you a map, which tells you very little actually other than what square cube you are in…in relation to the other square cubes, you are forced to replay many sections of the level if you make a single mistake towards the end in terms of where you jump and how you land. Naturally, you don’t know this the first time going into it, and so you’ll mess up and feel punished. It’s a cheap means to stretch out the gameplay in the middle, to ask a lot of a player already giving up things like eye-sight and security.

By all means, give it a go yourself. Do let me know what the last few chapters are all about and whether Lamprini ever sees the light of day. I don’t have a lot of faith that she does.

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.

Help Jason defeat the corruption in IAMJASON

iamjason gd final impressions

It’s not hard to see that I appreciate just about any game with a low res retro style to it. It makes my imagination work ten times as hard. Some recent notable examples include A Place in Space, Bernband, and A House in California, but we can dig deeper and see that I’ve been into this style since the heydays of the text-based murder mystery Sleuth on the family computer. To be fair, that game’s retro look was due to it actually being a retro game and using ASCII characters as graphics, released in 1983 by Eric N. Miller of Norland Software. Anyways, IAMJASON is another great runner to carry the “less is more” torch for indie games, delivering a somber, unsettling story through traditional mechanics and a visual style that has you determining for yourself what you are seeing.

IAMJASON is a point-and-click adventure game set in a dystopian other-realm where the colors pink, purple, and orange reign. The long and short of the game’s plot is that you must help Jason defeat the corruption, and to say anything else would ruin a lot of the discovery. The game was developed by Calico Reverie for the Monthly Adventure Game Studio (MAGS) competition in February 2015, which is a 30-day game dev challenge. I believe the theme for that month’s challenge was “losing something,” and IAMJASON is successfully all about that, whether it is in the form of family or memory or even meaning.

Mechanics are what you expect for the genre. You have an inventory to collect items into, as well as four commands–go, use, take, and look. Interestingly, the text you get from looking at items or trying to combine this with that is presented largely at the top of the screen in single word blips, as if the protagonist is really thinking about every word. You could almost imagine a “DOES. NOT. COMPUTE.” joke to pop up during some puzzle error, but the game never breaks from its seriousness. This goes the same for IAMJASON‘s soundtrack, which is low, peppered with muted bleeps and bloops, as well as the occasional burst of static acting as a drum beat. It works magically to create an atmosphere of dismay and disinterest, of broken beings continuing to just go through the motions. Many of the puzzles are logical even if you are dealing with fairly illogical concepts and items, such as daemon robots, passcode mechanisms, and power cores.

Unfortunately, I ran into a nasty, game-stopping bug in IAMJASON. Basically, I solved a part of a puzzle’s process earlier than expected, immobilizing a daemon robot to allow me to get a key item, but in doing so this locked the door to the room said robot is now trapped in. To complete the game, I needed to extract something from the wonky robot, but the door refused to open for me. I had to watch the remaining five or so minutes of gameplay on YouTube, which, while not the worst outcome, was still a little disappointing.

Other than that, I heartily recommend you give IAMJASON a go. It’s about thirty minutes of gameplay in total–so long as you act accordingly–and hopefully that previously mentioned bug is fixed or will soon be. Regardless, this is a strange and fascinating world worth ridding of corruption, even if it means losing everything.