Developed by Gabe Lane and Yugo Limbo, the two people behind publisher LimboLane, Smile For Me is a 2019 point-and-click adventure game. After visiting Dr. Habit’s GeoCities website inviting unhappy people to their facility, called The Habitat, the Flower Kid is woken up by a puppet show hosted by Dr. Habit. Dr. Habit explains that the Habitat is for sad and lonely people to learn how to be happy again, but as the game goes on, it seems its only a happiness created by Dr. Habit . Flower Kid is going to have to help the other twenty-two patients at The Habitat find their own happiness and escape Dr. Habit’s big plan.
What sets Smile For Me apart from other point-and-clicks is that all player interaction is in first person. While most of the traditional puzzles often found in these kinds of games are still present, such as finding a key item for a person or using a tool to progress, direct player interaction is different. All of Smile For Me is set in one large sky-box, where you walk around a 3D world with everyone else being a stuck-in-place 2D avatar. It’s similar to interacting with characters in the overworld segments of the Danganronpa games. Flower Kid has to nod yes and shake no to directly communicate with the other patients. Point-and-clicks are traditionally sprite-based 2D games, where each location is blocked off by a screen transition. Smile For Me restricts areas with locks and chains, but the entire game is in one location. Flower Kid is forced to engage with the other patients at Dr. Habit’s pace. They get tired at the end of the day and if they don’t return to their talking cowboy bed, Dr. Habit will get mad and Flower Kid loses half of the next day to sleep in.
Many of the video segments are just Dr. Habit narrating over analogue footage of flowers or other wildlife.
Rakuen is an RPG Maker adventure game created by Laura Shigihara. Shigihara is a singer, songwriter, and soundtrack composer who has contributed music to various games, including Melolune, Plants vs Zombies, To The Moon, and Deltarune. Rakuen is the first game created and developed by Shigihara and was released in 2017.
Rakuen follows the story of a child only known as the “boy”. Stuck in a hospital for certain reasons (and wearing a cool paper samurai helmet), his greatest joy comes from his mother’s regular visits, when she reads him his favorite book, Rakuen. The tale of Rakuen described a mystical fantasy forest under the charge of guardian Morizora, who can grant wishes. One day, the book goes missing, and after slipping away to the guarded-off and worn segments of the hospital, the boy confronts a mysterious old man named Uma, who has been stealing various items from the hospital. Uma reveals that Morizora’s forest is real and demonstrates that a magical door between worlds can allow the boy to travel there. The boy and his mother make their way through Morizora’s cave, where they find the guardian of the forest is sleeping and can only be awaken by activating runes tied to various individuals – the forest dwellers who are alternate versions of various hospital denizens. To awaken runes, the boy must learn about the problems these individuals experienced, help guide them along, and obtain their songs.
Humor in video games often feels hit or miss. Like most fiction, humor shows up at least occasionally in all kinds of games. For example, the Uncharted games try and fail at humor by thinking that having each of their characters quip back and forth (or even to themselves) is funny and endearing. Possibly worse is when you have games, like the otherwise enjoyable Guacamelee!, where a lot of its humor was using super dated (even at the time) internet reaction memes. There are parody games, but parody can only go so far. Honestly, outside of Okage: Shadow King and its humor centered on how goofy a lot of JRPGs plots are, the only other true comedy game I can think of is the visual novel Pizza Game.
Developed mostly by writer and programmer Plasterbrain, with help by her brother JelloApocalypse who designed the characters and directed the voice acting, Pizza Game is described by Plasterbrain as “a shit-post game, but a fully sustainable shit-post game”. Basically, what if someone made a full-length nonsensical otome visual novel, with none of the nonsense of games like the hour-long KFC dating sim? Pizza Game prides itself on its intentionally misspelled sentences and its parade of pretty unpleasant smoochable men. From the top, there is passive aggressive coffee shop owner with a dark past named Chris, rude tech billionaire who is almost definitely a serial killer named Mr. Arimnaes, an ironic and twisted skater named Warped Lamp, a bland but otherwise harmless pizza shop owner named Keenarnor, and whatever the hell Sensei is.
The Longing, developed by German animation and video game developers Studio Seufz, centers on a rock king’s last-ditch effort to stay in control. The king does so by reserving the last of his energy to create a tiny Shade creature (who will be simply addressed as Shade from now on) to wake him up in 400 days once his power has been restored. Shade is not given much instruction beyond some reminders about how they shouldn’t wonder to far from their underground palace, so Shade must find something to preoccupy the wait. Or better yet, preoccupy the longing.
Looking like a cute combination of a Heartless from Kingdom Hearts and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, but drawn by Edward Gorey, Shade’s average day follows the same few patterns. They can explore an area to look for either an escape from their role as a living alarm clock or locate items to make their living space cozier. These items range from classical literature to read, paper to draw dark but occasionally deeply metaphorical pictures, and enormous decorative crystals. This early exploration lasts for about an hour or so before Shade comes up against a few key obstacles, like a stalactite that won’t fall for a week or moss that hasn’t grown yet. Shade also walks slowly. Like super slowly. And so, The Longing reveals itself as an idle game.
103 is a Kickstarted walking simulator and puzzle game developed by Australian group Dystopia Interactive. First person seems to be Dystopia Interactive’s marmite and toast (hacky Australian joke is hacky), as both 103 and their only other game, Make A Killing, share this predilection for protagonists without faces. Mystery should be 103’s real title, because solving said mystery is half of playing 103. Lily is an overly imaginative individual whose night out with friends ends abruptly and the player must piece together what went on, and potentially what went wrong (I went into 103 narratively blind of this premise and now you know more than I).
Playing 103 involves walking through a cozy house, filled with stylish 1910’s Alphonse Mucha posters and adverts with drinking skeletons, in order to find…something? From the beginning, after quickly turning down the camera’s sensitivity because it was giving me motion sickness, 103 does not inform the player of anything. A blonde mannequin is present, often found finding value in staring at mirrors or enjoying the rain visible through the house’s sole window (which is honestly rather calming), and only she and the game’s patchwork bear mascot are the navigational devices. Those arrows drawn on the carpet? Totally worthless.
Muse Dash was originally released in 2018 by Peropero Games, an independent game development group from Guangzhou, China. According to an in-game loading screen tip, the game has seven devs. The game is available for mobile phones, the Nintendo Switch, and the PC through Steam.
Muse Dash is a rhythm game that borrows a few cues from action and platforming titles. One of the game’s playable girls – punkish Rin, mischievous Buro, and elegant Marija – runs through a stage while punting enemies and dodging obstacles that fly down the two on-screen lanes. The objective is simple: punt enemies, collect notes and hearts and try not to die from spikes, all to the beat of a song. If this sounds an awful lot like Game Freak’s 2013 3DS game Harmoknight, well, it is, but with more electronic music, faster gameplay and the ability to play as an anime girl in a maid outfit.
Somehow I didn’t break my combo while taking this screencap.
Maggie’s Apartment is a point and click adventure game from 2017 by designer and animator Anatola Howard and programmer Duncan Cross. The game centers on the titular Maggie Mallowne, an underwear-clad young women whose claim to fame is being the president of famous singer Randy Rosebud’s fan club. Maggie would argue her true biggest claim to fame is being Randy’s girlfriend, but she is not allowed to tell anyone this but her talking radish roommate Beauty. Over the course of Maggie’s Apartment’s short length, Maggie finds herself locked down in her 2000 story apartment, a bomb scare forcing her to really dwell on her relationship with her boyfriend Randy.
Maggie’s Apartment’s big draw is that it’s a point-and-click-adventure where the character stays in the same room for the entire game (Maggie does go out onto her patio a few times, but it could be argued that it is technically not leaving her apartment). Maggie lacks the usual point and click standard by not having a pocket/void world inventory system. Any object Maggie would normally collect instead stays fixed to the apartment floor until the plot decides, for example, Maggie no longer, requires two T.V. antenna to perform a puzzle. However, the game maintains the genre standard wherein most of the puzzles involve combining X item with Y item to make some combination solution.
Really wish the developers opened an Etsy shop just to sell this poster.
This review contains both extensive discussion on the topic of sexual assault as it relates to both plot progression, character interaction and an untypical increase in profanity for this writer. If such topics are considered unpleasant, please consider sitting this one out, dear reader.
I have a love/hate relationship with visual novels, and while I have a ton of games I like, visual novels as a whole can leave me lacking. Visual novels as a medium have this cool way of letting the player reside inside the characters’ heads and shared experiences. But they often feel narratively padded or suffer, as I like to call it, Otome game cover boy syndrome, a pushed canon relationship. In other words, any visual novel with a dating factor really has a steep hill to climb with me. That hill is even steeper when it comes to the relationships in Nitro+chiral’s Sweet Pool.
High school second year Youji Sakiyama has spent years in and out of the hospital. He doesn’t eat much, has a sleep problem, and if it wasn’t for the fact that all the character designs make every character marble white, Youji’s also looking awfully pale. Plot summaries in visual novel reviews feel like giving boss tips in the middle of a review of a character-action game, so I will keep it brief with things aren’t going great for Youji in his super Christian Japanese high school besides is failing health. Youji’s currently lives alone in an apartment he use to share with his adult sister, because his parents are dead because plot. This provides appeal alone/kidnap time with Youji’s lovely classmates/love interests: wholesome hungry boy Makoto Mita, quite to a genuinely annoying fault Tetsuo Shironuma, and beer can licker and shit head son of a Yakuza Zenya Okinaga. What fun merriment will befall these boys?
Really strange how this game got the license to play Duran Duran’s Hungry like the Wolf just for this burger shop scene.
Riding off the tailcoats of Francisco’s recent article, one of the more import-friendly genres for curious gaijin is rhythm games. There are the occasional titles that do require knowledge of Japanese, like Uta Kumi 575, but most can be played easily enough after you’ve learned to fumble through menus. On this note, I decided to take my first plunge into import gaming with IA/VT Colorful.
IA/VT Colorful was released in 2015 for the PS Vita after experiencing delays for nearly a year. The game was directed by Kenichiro Takaki, best known for directing the Senran Kagura titles, and published by Marvelous. As the title suggests, the game’s songs were composed using 1st Place Co.’s Vocaloid IA, whose voicebank is provided by Japanese singer Lia.
SeleP could make a song about a yandere knitting club & I’d probably still love it.
My personal experience with RPGs isn’t a particularly complicated history. It started when I played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the Game Boy Color in elementary school. At the time, I was pretty clueless about how exactly the game worked, which unintentionally made the game harder as a result, but I wasn’t deterred away from the genre. I’ve indulged in many different RPG titles since then and I’ve found it interesting how certain games manage to keep their mechanics distinctive. For example, both Dragon Quest VI and Final Fantasy VI have the core of turn-based RPGs, but manage to play out in completely different ways. Final Fantasy VI emphasizes using magic and characters’ special abilities in fights while Dragon Quest VI encourages players to keep a balanced party with the usage of job classes. On this topic of game mechanics, I took a look at Contact, a lesser-known RPG awash in its own variety of mechanics.
Contact was developed by Grasshopper Manufactures, best known for their action titles such as No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned and Killer is Dead, for the Nintendo DS in 2006. However, Contact was not directed by Grasshopper Manufacture’s iconic CEO Goichi Suda (aka Suda51) but instead directed by Akira Ueda, who had previously worked on games such as Secret of Mana and Shining Soul.