This week’s indie offerings show the variety of quality available on the eShop with standouts like the Metroidvania platformer Fuedal Alloy, the emotionally-driven and heartfelt Bury Me, My Love, and the Dark Souls-inspired Animus: Stand Alone all flying the flag for quality content on the indie scene. At the less impressive end, but still potentially something to consider for a young crowd, we have the colourful and bright titles of Cake Laboratory and Unicornicopia.
Ah, the food-based mobile arcade game. When will this trend end? Not this week, apparently, as we sample a not-so-sweet tower-builder in Cake Laboratory. The concept is incredibly basic and the visuals cartoonish and obnoxious. You’re tasked with creating the largest cake possible, stacking up a set amount each level and lining things up as neatly as you can. This is easy to get good at quickly and once your precision is a little practised, you should have no trouble getting three stars up until the last few levels.
There's a good selection of levels to sample in Cake Laboratory, but they add little variety when the gameplay is so monotonous; the variability only really comes from the differences in cakes, which are purely aesthetic. You’re able to make your own cakes which is quite cute, but it doesn’t do a thing to improve the gameplay which is just too simple to be anything more than a mind-numbing time waster. Yes, the arms dropping the cakes get faster and, obviously, you have to stack more every time, but overall, this is a pretty dull time.
Aesthetically, it’s fine but a little garish. It takes a cartoonish style with comical splats and sploshes every time a cake makes moist contact with the bake below. The chef character, in particular, is a little hard on the eyes and in general, it’s far too reminiscent of a low-quality mobile game to be attractive. Its saving grace is that for a young child, it’s harmless and entertaining, with bright colours and simple game mechanics that, in fairness, do increase in difficulty over time. However, for an adult player, there really isn’t enough to even slightly recommend a purchase here.
An intensely personal and deeply moving story focused text game, Bury Me, My Love, tells the tale of Syrian refugees and is based on the struggles of real people. It focuses on decision-based gameplay that urges the player to think empathetically. The story has you play as Majd, helping his wife Nour through the horrors of the Syrian battlefield in an attempt to start a new life in Germany. The game has 19 different endings, all of which are influenced by the way you speak to Nour and attempt to sway her decisions.
The true genius of Bury Me, My Love comes from its incredibly well written and realistic dialogue options. Everything you say to Nour has a knock-on effect, but she isn’t a robot that follows your every command. She’s your wife, a human being who doesn’t always listen to what you say. Thus, the game succeeds in putting you in the shoes of a helpless husband as your only powers are to advise on what you think is the right thing to do. You’re often left for a number of hours without word from her, which can be incredibly stressful. The dialogue is also supported by a heart-pounding and brilliant soundtrack that has a fast pace and drum-heavy influence whenever something dramatic is happening.
Bury Me, My Love is more an emotionally-invested experience than a game. The texts, map, and pictures sent by Nour are all you ever really see. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue as the art style is well done and simultaneously gritty and endearing, leading to further alignment with the characters' plights. The game holds very little back in terms of the atrocities of war and also how horrified, yet desensitised, the main characters are to it. Bury Me, My Love should be experienced by anyone as a lesson in both empathy and wonderful text-based storytelling. Remembering that the emotional story has its basis in true events will make players consider the struggles of those less fortunate.
From the very first screen it’s clear to see the key influence of Animus: Stand Alone, in pretty much all areas. It is essentially a condensed version of Dark Souls for mobile, giving a combat-heavy RPG experience that revels in the huge boss battles and deep layers of precision fighting the series is known for. That is all readily available in this Switch port, too, and as a more bare-bones alternative to the AAA title, it’s good. Thrust into a mythical, medieval world, you’re the last knight; the chosen one tasked with taking down a great evil. That’s essentially all you’ll need to know regarding the story, which is told through occasional cutscenes, but also somewhat disappointingly through text segments too.
The combat and graphics of Animus are top-notch. Looking to the former first, it’s comparatively fast-paced, with a myriad of inherited mechanics including blocking, combination attacks, special moves and an exceptional variety of weapons to buy and sell. The focus is on the large-scale boss battles, which can provide some punishingly difficult encounters dependant on the level of the player and the upgrades made. As with Dark Souls, you’re penalised for the slightest mistake and will often find yourself restarting as a result. Refreshingly, however, Animus has you traversing through individual levels rather than an open world, culminating with a boss at the end of each. This is pleasantly different and allows some nice breathing time after an intense battle to pick up loot and improve your gear before cracking on with the next level.
Graphically, it’s also well done. Though the world is dark and dingy, the creatures are well-rendered and look appropriately hideous. For a presumably lesser budget, it’s really quite remarkable. The soundtrack is also epic, providing some real weight to both the cutscenes and big battles. The camera can, however, be a slight issue, particularly in the aforementioned boss encounters, which can irritatingly push you up against walls that obscure your view. Overall, Animus: Stand Alone is highly recommended for fans of the Dark Souls and Bloodborne series, offering a smaller scale, level-based variation on these titles that still sports excellent gameplay and impressive graphics.
Unicornicopia is a maddeningly simple and colourful game that lacks both character and depth, making for a shallow experience under the guise of a child-friendly platformer. The ‘action’ is entirely on-rails and is about as basic as you can get. You’ll jump over enemies, duck to avoid enemies, and collect coins that allow you to refuel and run for even longer. There’s no control over your unicorn to move them back or forward and as such, no real way to fail at collecting every coin on the map.
The gameplay really is just too basic and gets frustratingly boring very early on. For a young gamer, this might not be the absolute worst way to introduce them to the concept of a platformer, but it really does deliver the bare minimum. The enemy design is about as stock as you can get, with cartoonish bugs and animals that somehow even hover unconvincingly as you dip, duck, dive and dodge their various unappealing palette swaps behind a nauseating array of garishly bright backdrops. The game also lacks any kind of customisation feature, which would’ve been a nice addition for kids to make their own technicolour steeds.
There really isn’t a huge amount more to say about Unicornicopia. Its game design is rudimentary and undeveloped to the nth degree and will offer zero challenge to anyone with gaming experience. Its art design is overly cartoonish and brash and it ends up with almost the exact same verdict as Cake Laboratory as a result; not awful for children, but completely unappealing, boring, and nauseating to an adult audience looking for an indie experience. Oh yes, and the soundtrack and sound effects are just as stock as the visuals, with a dive sound effect almost identical to that of Sonic’s jump. Skip it.
We round out this week with a really good indie platformer that blends the Metroidvania progression style with some interesting mechanics and a wonderful hand-drawn art style, delivering something really special as a result. Feudal Alloy obviously takes inspiration from the likes of Metroid and post Symphony of the Night Castlevania games by having you explore a huge open world, discovering new areas as you go and adding to your map to try and make sense of the maze you’re tasked with navigating. As with all games of this sub-genre, it can be very confusing and frustrating at times, but the sense of accomplishment when you successfully find your way outweighs the annoyance of being lost.
The plot is endearingly bizarre, having you take control of a fish in a tank controlled by a medieval robot called Attu, who takes revenge on bandits who stole oil from the residents of a care home for retired robots that he looks after. Weirdness like this is why we love indie games. Attu has a sword at his disposal but, as you progress, he gains the option to upgrade not only his weapon, but also purchase better legs, arms, torso, bombs, melee weapons, and of course, a nicer tank for the fish.
Progression is based on the collection of loot and coin, which can be traded and used for the aforementioned upgrades. Standard fare, but it has great synergy with the story elements. The interesting mechanics come in the form of a stamina meter that Attu can exhaust by swinging his sword too many times. This is also manipulated in environmental areas, such as in extreme heat where he can’t use his sword unless he applies a cooling agent. That does mean you’ll have to do some backtracking if you don’t have the right item at the right time, but it adds some great variety.
Stylistically, Feudal Alloy is reminiscent of titles such as Rayman Legends with its beautiful hand-drawn art style and detailed characters and backdrops. The movements are fluid and the world, despite being filled by machines, is full of life and character. Feudal Alloy is a wonderful example of a platformer done right. A brilliant, exploratory adventure that throws interesting mechanics to the table that breathe life into a well-established sub-genre.
Do any of these games sound like your kind of thing? Will you be spending your eShop funds on any of these indie picks? Whatever you decide, let us know in the comments below.